After a convincing 2-0 over arch-rivals Indonesia in the final Group B match to qualify for the AFF Suzuki Cup 2012 semifinals, defending champions Malaysia had to be contented with a 1-1 draw against Thailand in the first leg of the semifinals on Sunday night. A late goal in the closing 11 minutes by Thailand’s Teerasil Dangda silenced the capacity crowd at Bukit Jalil Stadium after Malaysia led through a brilliant header by Norshahrul Idlan Talaha early in the second half.
Harimau Malaya started without some of their core players out with injuries. Rajagobal made four changes to his starting line-up with Bunyamin Umar, Amar Rohidan, Gary Steven Robbat and Baddrol Bakhtiar replacing Zubir Azmi, Shakir Shaari, Wan Zack Haikal Wan Nor and Safee.
The first half was entertaining, with both sides parrying each others’ blows. It wasn’t the best of condition for a fluid, passing game for either side, no thanks to heavy downpour that resulted in a soggy pitch.
The second half began explosively as Mahalli burst down the right flank and sent a brilliant cross that Norshahrul met with no mistake to place his glancing header in the far corner of the net, out of reach of Thai keeper Kawin.
The stadium erupted as the home side took the lead. It was the first time that the Thais had fallen behind in the tournament.
The Thais continued to plough on and constantly looked dangerous as the Malaysians contested every ball and played a more defensive game.
Safee and K.Gunanlan came on for Malaysia with 15 minutes left to replace Baddrol and Robbat, much to the delight of the cheering crowd.
The Thais were finally rewarded when the ball came to full-back Piyaphon on the right flank who sent in a measured cross that was met by Teerasil whose header flew past Farizal into the top right corner of the net. 1-1.
Malaysia fought on and could have gone ahead on two occasions in the closing minutes. Safiq’s free-kick from the left met with a fierce header from Safee that forced a brilliant point-blank save from Kawin. Deep into stoppage time, Norshahrul broke clear on goal but Kawin again did well to deny the goal.
Malaysia coach K.Rajagobal felt that his side were denied a victory that their performance deserved.
“I think tonight was one of the best matches that we have played and if you look at the game overall, I think that we deserved to win.”
The duel was possibly the most keenly-contested and entertaining matches of the tournament. The second leg will be held at Supachalasai Stadium, Bangkok on Thursday, December 13.
Watch the video highlights below:
Can’t make it to Bangkok? Catch all the action of ESPN Star Sports and comprehensive coverage on www.espnstar.com and www.espnstar.my (in Bahasa Malay). Also follow the tournament, instant updates on goals and key moments on Twitter at @espn_star and @espnstarmy (in Bahasa Malay).
Source: AFF Suzuki Cup
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