Malaysia booked a place in the final of the 41st Merdeka Tournament with a come from behind 2-1 win over Myanmar at the Darul Makmur Stadium tonight.
The win gives Malaysia six points with their opponents on Wednesday, Thailand on four points, courtesy of their 1-0 win over Singapore in an earlier match.
It was a workmanlike performance by the Malaysian team as they fought tooth and nail against a Myanmar side that were guilty of niggling fouls throughout the match. Malaysia could have won more comfortably had they taken the chances they created.
Malaysian captain Mohd Irfan Fazail celebrates his goal with teammates against Myanmar at the Darul Makmur Stadium tonight.
“It was the fighting spirit of the players that made the difference. To be honest after missing so many chances in the first 45 minutes, I too started having doubts that we could claw our way back into the game,” said Kim Swee.
“But if one takes a look at our statistics, it is obvious that we created some 20 odd chances but only manage to score one or two goals. It was a hard fought match and now that we are in the final, I will make several changes to the line-up for the match against Thailand. There are a lot of tired legs out there and they need a break,” he added.
Malaysia made two changes to their starting line up, preferring to field Mohammad Nazmi Faiz and Mohd Azrif Nasrulhaq instead of S. Sivanesan and T. Reuben respectively.
The inclusion of Nazmi instead of Sivanesan was expected as the former had given a good account of himself when fielded in the last 20 minutes of the match against Singapore.
As for Reuben, he looked jaded and was slow on the turn in the same match, thus the decision by coach Ong Kim Swee to play Azrif.
It was Myanmar that almost drew first blood in the 15th minute as a free kick taken by Kyaw Zayar Win was heading into the top left side but was turned around the post by Malaysian keeper Mohd Izham Tarmizi for a fruitless corner.
Malaysian had a glorious chance to go ahead two minutes later as Mohd Fadhli Shas met a downward header from Irfan Fazail but skied his shot with only Myanmar keeper Pyaye Phyo Aung to beat.
In the 19th minute Myanmar were saved by the woodwork as Wan Zack Haikal’s thunderous free kick from 35 meters out rocked the crossbar with Phyo Aung completely beaten.
Malaysia’s Thamil Arasu (centre) tussles for the ball with Myanmar’s Aung Hein Khaw (left) and Zaw Min Tun in the 41st Merdeka Tournament at the Darul Makmur Stadium tonight. Malaysia won 2-1.
Wan Zack beat the offside trap in the 23rd minute and burst through the middle but Phyo Aung pulled of a brilliant save to turn the ball around the post, a golden chance squandered.
Myanmar punished Malaysia and took a 1-0 lead in the 38th minute as Nay Lin Tun’s header sailed into goal off a corner taken by Zayar Win. The header crept into goal as Izham could only palm it into goal as Mohd Zubir Mohd Azmi stood watch.
Barely two minutes later, Zayar Win, the playmaker for Myanmar limped off with a calf strain and was replaced by David Htan but Myanmar held on till halftime for a 1-0 lead.
Malaysia made a double substitution within the space of a minute, bringing on Syahrul Azwari Ibrahim and Saiful Ridzuwan Selamat in place of Nazmi Faiz and D. Saarvindran respectively.
And that changed the game as in the 64th minute Wan Zack floated in a free kick that Junior Eldstal headed across the goal, giving skipper Mohd Irfan Fazail the easiest of task of guiding the ball into an unguarded goal with Phyo Aung caught in no man’s land.
Malaysia then dominated play for the next 10 minutes as Wan Zack tested Phyo Aung with another of his trademark freekicks that the Myanmar custodian could only parry away. Junior Eldstal then hit the upright in the 75thminute, denied by the woodwork for the second successive match.
Wan Zack made no mistake from a freekick from the edge of the box, awarded after Thamil Arasu was fouled, the ball sailing into the top left hand corner, giving Malaysia a well deserved lead in the 78th minute.
And Myanmar suffered further agony as Kyi Lin was sent off deep into injury time, for a second bookable offence.