HANOI - The Harimau Malaya found their bite at the right time.
And it resulted in Malaysia stunning Vietnam for a 4-2 win in the AFF Suzuki Cup semi-final second-leg match at the My Dinh National Stadium on Thursday.
Goals by Mohd Safiq Rahim (5th pen), Norshahrul Idlan Talaha (15th), Dinh Tien Thanh (29th own goal) and Shukor Adan (43rd) ensured Malaysia a 5-4 aggregate win and set up a showdown against Thailand next week.
Vietnam skipper Le Cong Vinh's brace in the 21st and 78th minutes were not enough to save the Red Jerseys.
This will be Malaysia's third final in the biennial competition. They will face Thailand in the first leg in Bangkok on Dec 17 and the return leg at the National Stadium in Bukit Jalil on Dec 20.
Even national coach Dollah Salleh was quick to point out to his players' clinical finishing for Thursday's against-the-odds win - given their limp performance in losing the first leg 2-1 at the Shah Alam Stadium last Sunday.
"The players did well in this match. We had four chances in the first half and the players made it count," Dollah said at the post-match press conference.
"I didn't expect them to score four goals to win the match ... the players did exceptionally well and I'm proud of them for this win as I've only been with the team for a short time.
"Our crosses into the box made the difference ... I told the players to pressure the Vietnam backline with crosses and the game plan worked like a charm for us as three of our goals came that way.
"If we can repeat this performance ... we can go further."
Dollah's decision to make five changes to the line-up after the first leg defeat proved to be quite a masterstroke as well.
The introduction of old war horses Indra Putra Mahayuddin and Mohd Badhri Radzi, the return of skipper Shukor and winger Mohd Amri Yahyah from suspension and the bold move of dropping first-choice goalkeeper Khairul Fahmi Che Mat for Mohd Farizal Marlias were clearly the catalyst for Malaysia's improved performance.
Dollah was forced to drop striker Mohd Safee Sali for the match after he failed to shrug off a groin injury picked up during training on Wednesday.
The coach also pushed winger S. Kunalan to the rightback position to shore up the defence.
With their back against the wall, the Harimau Malaya played a neat tactical game - keeping it tight at the back and sharp up front.
Malaysia could not have asked for a better start. Safiq's fourth goal of the competition - from the penalty spot in the fifth minute - got the ball rolling for Malaysia after Indra Putra was fouled in the box.
Ten minutes later, Malaysia were 2-0 up thanks a to a mix-up between Vietnam goalkeeper Tranh Nguyen Manh and his centreback. The Vietnam duo went for a long cross but hesitated, allowing Norshahrul to nip in and loop the ball over the goalkeeper - and into an empty net.
Vietnam then narrowed the deficit through Cong Vinhm, who converted a spot kick after Amri fouled a Vietnam player in the box in the 21st minute.
Malaysia restored their two-goal lead in the 29th minute when Tien Thanh deflected Indra's cross into his own goal.
Skipper Shukor put the game beyond Vietnam's reach two minutes before the break when he nodded in Mohd Fadhli Shas' flick-on.
Although Vietnam's talismanic skipper Cong Vinh got his second in the 78th minute, Malaysia stayed strong for an astounding triumph - and ending the Malaysia's winless run on Vietnam soil since 1991.
Vietnam coach Toshiya Miura said that his players were naive in the first half.
"And when they got it right, it was too late," he said.
"This was our worst performance after playing four matches ... we didn't play well in the first half and it cost us the game."