BUKIT JALIL (11 Dec 2018) – Fired up by the massive home support, the Malaysians battled back from two goals down to level the score against Vietnam in the AFF Suzuki Cup first-leg final match at the National Stadium tonight.
Vietnam blasted two rapid goals in three minutes but the hosts struck once in each half to force a 2-2 score tonight.
With over 87,000 fans including 6,000-plus Vietnamese, the atmosphere was simply electrifying. And the players responded by turning in a thrilling performance tonight, smashing in four goals to the delight of the fans.
“Overall, we played well. But we conceded the early goals due to the lack of focus,” said Malaysian head coach Tan Cheng Hoe. “We still have another 90 minutes to play for.”
Nguyen Huy Hung snatched the lead in the 22nd minute with Pham Duc Huy doubling the score three minutes later. There were concerns that the Malaysians would crumble and concede more goals.
The Malaysians, who have proven their ability to fight back and as they did against Cambodia and in the second-leg semi-finals, reduced the gap through defender Shahrul Mohd Saad in the 36thminute.
Muhammad Safawi Rasid then hammered in a cracking freekick in the 61st to tie the game and was later named the Honor Man-of-the-Match.
Earlier, the fans began taking their seats some five hours before the kick-off. An hour before the match, the stadium was packed, setting the stage for a great final. Buoyed by the home support, the Malaysians charged forward. Soon enough, they had a chance but Norshahrul Idlan Talaha just missed connecting a cross in.
Some 15 minutes into the game, Zaquan had a shot but his diving header was just off the mark. The miss would haunt the team minutes later as Vietnam surged ahead in their first crack at goal when a defender got his boot to the ball but it was not enough to stop Huy Hung’s shot.
The Malaysian fans were stunned three minutes later when midfielder Duc Huy’s long drive swerved beyond the reach of Farizal Marlias and turned into goal.
The two quick goals showed out the team’s weakened defence which is down to one player from the original four-man line-up. Two defenders, Mohamad Aidil Zafuan and Muhammad Syazwan Andik are injured while Muhammad Syahmi Safari was suspended.
Despite the early setback, the Malaysians battled back and from a freekick, awarded on the left in the 37th minute, managed to reduce the deficit. Syameer’s cross was neatly met by a solid header from defender Shahrul that left the Vietnamese keeper Dang Van Lam rooted.
Then, just past the hour mark, the stadium erupted when Muhammad Safawi unleashed a stunning freekick that crashed into goal.
“We played really well. The players fought hard. We scored and conceded two goals by set play,” added Vietnam head coach Park Heng-seo. “Not a big problem. We will play better for Hanoi.”
The second-leg final will be held in Hanoi on Saturday.