Malaysia through to AFF Suzuki Cup semis with two late goals

Malaysia through to AFF Suzuki Cup semis with two late goals

SINGAPORE - The odds were against Malaysia.

They were up against the defending champions.

They were playing away.

National coach Dollah Salleh's neck was on the chopping block.

Just when about everyone had given up on them, the ill-prepared national team pulled off a heart-stopping 3-1 win over arch rivals Singapore to advance to the AFF Suzuki Cup semi-finals.

It was a pleasant result for Malaysia, who ended their 12-year jinx on Singapore soil.

Despite the scoreline, the national team had to toil for the win in their final Group B match at the National Stadium in Kallang.

Striker Mohd Safee Sali scored the opener in the 60th minute but Singapore, who only needed a draw to go through, equalised through Khairul Amri in the 82nd minute.

Midfielder Safiq Rahim then converted a spot kick in the 90th minute and veteran attacker Indra Putra Mahayuddin put the game beyond Singapore two minutes into stoppage time.

The Harimau Malaya finished second in the group with four points - five behind leaders Thailand, who defeated Myanmar 2-0 to finish top of the group at the Jalan Besar Stadium.

Tanaboon Kesarat (12th) and Prakit Deeprom (84th) added a goal in each half to give the Thais the maximum nine points. Thailand had earlier beaten Singapore 2-1 and Malaysia 3-2.

National coach Dollah Salleh joked that he was close to suffering a heart attack towards the end of the match.

"But thank God we converted the last-minute penalty. I'm happy with the players ... they gave it their very best till the end," said a delighted Dollah at the post-match press conference.

"I was thinking that it was game-over for us when Singapore equalised. But credit to our players, they never gave up. I'm very proud of their overall performance."

The win, however, comes with a price as skipper Mohd Shukor Adan and striker Mohd Amri Yahyah will miss the first leg of the semi-final against Vietnam in Kuala Lumpur on Dec 7 after picking up their second bookings of the tournament.

Dollah, however, is not thinking about Vietnam, yet. He's just cherishing only his first win in a competitive.

"I'm glad to have finally won a game. Yes, I have been winless since being appointed coach. But today's win was a big one ... we are in the semi-finals now," said the former international.

The match got off to a slow start and only came alive after the break, with Safee opening the scoring at the hour mark with some clever passing movement between Safiq and Amri.

The Lions got back into the game eight minutes before time off a freekick. Goalkeeper Khairul Fahmi Che Mat could only parry the ball into the path of the lurking Khairul, who latched home from close range.

Shakir Hamzah's push on Amri in the penalty box led to Omani referee Ahmed Abu Bakar Said awarding a penalty. Safiq cooly converted it.

Indra gave the scoreline a bit of gloss when he rolled the ball into the back of the net off a breakaway, with Singapore goalkeeper Hassan Sunny stranded in the Malaysian box after going up for a last-ditch corner kick.

A disappointed Singapore coach Bernd Stange apologised to the Singapore fans for failing to progress to the semi-finals.

"The penalty and stoppage-time goals were heartbreaking ... we are sorry that we couldn't deliver," said Stange.

"Both teams started slowly and it was very tactical. We didn't want to play for a draw as it was risky ... we conceded a goal but got back into the game. Then, came the heartbreak."

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