SINGAPORE - Thailand coach Kiatisuk Senamuang was all smiles at a post-match press conference last night, cracking jokes and staying back to take pictures with admiring journalists.
Who can blame him? Winning a football match in a dramatic fashion always puts a spring in anyone's step, even a vastly experienced one like Kiatisuk's.
Last night at Jalan Besar Stadium, Thailand not only secured passage to the ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup semi-finals but also did so courtesy of a 90th-minute strike.
More importantly, the Thais showed the mark of true champions, coming back from behind twice before delivering the late sucker punch to beat a fired-up Malaysia 3-2 in a thrilling encounter which was delayed by 2½ hours owing to inclement weather.
Describing the tie as his most difficult game in the AFF Cup so far, Kiatisuk said: "I want to thank my players for not giving up. They played hard and were fighting throughout.
"Without this spirit, we would not have come back and got the three points."
Still, it was underdogs Malaysia who drew first blood, silencing the boisterous Thai crowd with an Amri Yahyah goal in the 28th minute.
The Tigers started to dominate the game and Amri even fired a shot from inside his own half that cannoned off the crossbar.
Sensing a need for incisiveness, Kiatisuk replaced striker Kirati Keawsombat with star forward Adisak Kraisorn in the 41st minute.
It proved a masterstroke. Within two minutes, Adisak equalised, slotting home a Charyl Chappuis cross in the 43rd minute.
In the second half, however, Safiq Rahim put Malaysia ahead again, scoring from just inside the area after going on a mazy run.
But back came the Thais, with Charyl equalising for the second time with a thumping shot in the 72nd minute, before Adisak completed the stunning comeback, controlling a cross from the right and rifling home from close range in the final minute of normal time.
Buoyed by the win, Kiatisuk said: "We've beaten two strong teams now. Why not go all the way and get the Cup?"
Malaysia coach Dollah Salleh, on the other hand, was left to rue his side's poor concentration at the end of each period.
Malaysia have one point from their 0-0 opening draw against Myanmar and must beat Singapore on Saturday to advance.
Said Dollah: "I'm very happy with the performance, even if we didn't get the win.
"If the boys perform like what the did today, we should have no problem against Singapore."
This article was first published on November 27, 2014. Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.