BANGKOK (13 Dec 2012) – Three-time champions, Thailand declared their return to the top flight of Southeast Asian football when they qualified for their seventh AFF Suzuki Cup final at the Supachalasai Stadium here tonight.
The Thais, winners in 1996, 2000 and 2002, defeated a 10-man Malaysia 2-0 in the second leg semi-finals for an overall 3-1 aggregate victory.
Thailand, whose last final appearance was in 2008 when they lost to Vietnam, will face another three-time winner, Singapore, in the two-leg final scheduled for 19 December and 22 December. Singapore will host the first leg while Bangkok will organise the return leg three days later.
Thailand’s heroes tonight were dangerman Teerasil Dangda, who had scored in the first-leg draw, and Teerathon. But for defending champions Malaysia, the sacking of defender Fadhli Shas in the dying minutes of the first half ruined their chances of making the final again.
Malaysia almost had a disastrous start. Just five minutes from the kick-off, a defensive error saw Jakkapan Pornsai snatched the ball from Aidil. Fortunately for Malaysia, goalkeeper Farizal was quick to react and threw himself at the feet of the on-rushing Jakkapan to save the day.
Four minutes later, Fadzli Shas was booked for an over-zealous tackle. The booking however would come back to haunt him later in the game.
As the game progressed, Malaysia and Thailand began to create chances for themselves but during a quick counter-attack on the half hour mark Teerasil Dangda almost cracked open the goal. Latching onto a long pass, Teerasil dashed towards the Malaysian goal but his grounder was just off the mark.
With two minutes to go, Malaysia’s hopes of advancing were dealt a cruel blow when Fadhli was sent off for picking up a second booking. Fadli and Datsakorn Thonglao were involved in a heated exchange that ended with both players confronting each other. There was minor physical contact but refereeLee Min Hu from South Korea booked both players.
In the 56th minute, Teerathon, from near the corner flag, curled his freekick towards the near post and Farizal was forced to punch it out.
One hour into the game, Teerasil made Malaysia pay for a defensive error. Amar Rohidan fumbled with the ball which Teerasil quickly pounced on, whizzed past Aidil before he coolly slipped it past Farizal.
Before Malaysia could recover, Teerathon slammed home a rebound from a stinging freekick taken by Jakkapan. Farizal managed to push out the shot but it landed in the path of Teerathon who killed off any remaining hopes Malaysia had.
Late in the game, in the last ten minutes, the Thais were surprised by two close calls by Norshahrul Idlan Talaha and Safee Sali. But they quickly rallied together to block any further attempts from the Malaysians.
Pix courtesy of World Sport Group