INTERNATIONAL WATCH : Harimau Muda Gains Revenge, Azri G. Helps Malaysia In 3-1 Win Over Laos

The national Under-23’s made it two wins out of two matches, gaining sweet revenge over Laos, following a 3-1 win on Tuesday in this Group B encounter, again at Hanoi’s Thien Truong Stadium, boosting their chances for a place in the semi-finals of the 31st South East Asian (SEA) Games football competition in Vietnam.


Kuala Lumpur City goalkeeper, Azri G., who was not part of the squad for February’s Asean Football Federation’s (AFF) Under-23 Championship in Cambodia, missing both their defeats (1-2 & 0-2) to the Laotians then, was relied upon once again by Brad Maloney for the second match running in this competition.


In their fourth meeting since October 2021, having beaten the Indo-Chinese nation 1-0 during AFC Under-23 Asian Cup qualifiers in Mongolia last October, Malaysia began aggressively and often posed problems to the opposing defenders. However, despite all their dominance and enterprise, it was not until the 36th minute of play that the Harimau Muda finally broke the deadlock, through a deflected effort by young striker Luqman Hakim that wrong footed goalkeeper Keo Oudone, after making room from himself inside the box.


Roared on by the near capacity vociferous crowd and growing in confidence with every passing minute, Malaysia doubled their lead with halftime arriving, Syahir Bashah striking beautifully from 20 metres outside the box, bending it past the keeper into the bottom right corner.


The next chapter began as how the first ended, with the Harimau Muda pressing forward in search of more goals, but Laos threatened to reduce the deficit in the 59th minute, when a cross from the left went looking for forward Chony Wenpaserth at the top of the box, but Azri G. read the play and quickly came off his line to intercept.


Luqman got his second of the match midway through the second half, when Hadi Fayadh’s flicked on header at near post off Nur Azfar Fikri’s cross from the right, found him just behind, and he made no mistake from inside the six yard box.


With 11 minutes to go, Azri G. was almost punished for rushing off his line from a corner on the right, completely missing the flight of the ball, thankfully though, Phetdavanh Somsanid,headed it wide off target. Laos again came close a minute later, Phoutthasay Khochalern sprang the offside trap and found himself all alone in the box when meeting a cross from the left, but Azri G. superbly tipped his header over the crossbar.


The young Million Elephants were not to be denied some consolation for their hardwork earlier, when in the 85th minute, Phithack Kongmathilath delivered a curling shot on the turn past Azri G. at full stretch, after receiving the ball at the top of the ‘D’, with his back to goal despite being surrounded by bodies in Yellow And Black.


Malaysia could have condemned Michael Weiss’ side to a heavier defeat if not for late misses from Hadi’s long range grounder and Azfar’s shot within the box that went straight to Keo.


In the other Group B match played earlier, Singapore got their first win in the competition, courtesy of Shah Shahiran’s 36th minute winner over Cambodia, reviving their bid for a place in the semi-finals; following the 5-0 disaster at the hands of Thailand on Monday. The young Angkor Warriors, who hammered Laos 4-1 on that day, would be cursing their luck for not coming away with a draw at the least during this tie having had opportunities that went to waste.


The results today allow the Malaysians to reclaim the top position, two points ahead of Singapore with a game in hand over the young Lions, whom they meet next on Saturday. Thailand and Cambodia, are a point back in joint third, but have only played 2 matches too, while Laos occupies the basement position after 3 matches.


On Tuesday in Group A, Myanmar got their second win in as many matches, edging the Philippines 3-2 after registering the same scoreline on Sunday against Timor Leste. It was the young Azkals’ first loss in this competition. Last weekend, they held the holders Vietnam to a scoreless draw. Indonesia meanwhile reignited their campaign with a 4-1 thrashing of Timor Leste, who lost for the third consecutive time. The young Chinthe currently top this group; level on 4 points in second and third, are the Philippines and Vietnam respectively, though the former has played a match more than the young Golden Star Warriors. The young Garuda’s lie a point back having played the same number of fixtures as the hosts. The youngsters from The Rising Sun have been eliminated from competition.


The next round of matches in both groups are as follows,
Group A, on Friday : Philippines Vs Indonesia, Myanmar Vs Vietnam, Rest : Timor Leste
Group B, on Saturday : Singapore Vs Malaysia, Cambodia Vs Thailand, Rest : Laos


The top two nations of each group will qualify to the semifinals on the May 19, 2022, and the final three days later on May 22, 2022.


Malaysia were gold medal winners of the football competition for 4 times in 1961, 1977, 1979 & 1989 before it became an age restricted competition from the 2001 SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur (2001-2015 Under-23, 2017-2019 Under-22). Since the rule change, the Harimau Muda won twice in 2009 and 2011. In the 2019 Manila SEA Games, the Harimau Muda crashed out of the competition at the group stage, finishing second from bottom in a group that had Myanmar, Cambodia, the Philippines and Timor Leste. The last SEA Games medal the Harimau Muda picked up in football was a silver, after the 1-0 loss to Thailand in the 2017 final at the National Stadium in Bukit Jalil.