KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 3 — Malaysia produced a scintillating display of attacking football and tigerish pressing to trounce Singapore 4-1 and qualify for the semi-finals of the Asean Football Federation (AFF) Cup 2022 at the National Stadium in Bukit Jalil today.
The Harimau Malaya players, cheered on by a vociferous 65,147 crowd, turned on the style right from the first whistle of their Group B match and their relentless pressure paid dividends as goals by Darren Lok (35th minute), Stuart Wilkin (50th minute, 54th minute) and Sergio Aguero (88th minute) helped seal a memorable win in this Causeway derby.
The win, which sees Malaysia finish as runners-up in Group B behind Vietnam, helped the Harimau Malaya make amends for crashing out in the group stage in the previous edition as well as end their winless run against the Lions since November 2014 after losing twice and drawing once in three meetings.
Singapore scored a consolation goal through Faris Ramli in the 85th minute but their game was littered with mistakes, making it easy for Malaysia to breach their defence time and again and, had it not been for poor finishing, the Harimau Malaya could — and should — have won by a bigger margin.
The main culprits in the first half were nippy winger Mohamad Faisal Abdul Halim, who wasted a handful of chances, and fullback V. Ruventhiran.
Mohamad Faisal, after receiving a pass from skipper Muhammad Safawi Rasid, saw his attempt from inside the box thwarted by Singapore custodian Hassan Sunny, who then performed admirably to deny a follow-up shot by Ruventhiran.
Mohamad Faisal, who has scored three goals so far, had another chance to put Malaysia ahead but Hassan easily palmed out his close-range effort in the 17th minute.
However, there was no escape for Singapore, who adopted a defensive approach, in the 35th minute when Muhammad Safawi, after winning the ball with intense pressing, broke away on the right before crossing for Darren to send a glancing header past Hassan and send the home crowd into a frenzy.
A quick glance at the match statistics for the first half showed Malaysia having nine attempts (with three on target) compared to just two (with none on target) for Singapore.
Malaysia then came back after the break with a vengeance to double their lead in the 50th minute when Singapore’s substitute striker Shawal Anuar poor first touch allowed Wilkin to regain possession and let fly a piledriver from outside the box which Hassan got his hand to but could not keep out.
Four minutes later Wilkin struck again.
Muhammad Safawi, who tormented the Singapore backline with his clever runs on the right, was again the creator when he crossed the ball to Wilkin who turned and unleashed a shot past Hassan to put Malaysia 3-0 up.
With victory as good as in hand, Malaysia dropped a gear and Singapore, under the guidance of coach Takayuki Nishigaya, finally came out of their shell and began to launch a series of attacks, with Faris finally finding the target in the 85th minute when he applied the finishing touch from close range off a cross from the right.
That goal galvanised Malaysia as they stepped up a gear to notch goal number four just three minutes later with a stylish and speedy counter-attack involving three substitutes.
Muhammad Haqimi Azim Rosli broke away on the right to relay the ball to Lee Tuck, who then squared it for Aguero to curl the ball from outside the box into the bottom left corner.
The result is a repeat of their clash in the 2014 edition at the National Stadium in Singapore, which Malaysia won 3-1 to pip the Lions for a spot in the semi-finals as Group B runners-up.
In the semi-finals, Malaysia will take on Group A champions Thailand while Vietnam will face Group A runners-up Indonesia.
Vietnam defeated Myanmar 3-0 in their last Group B match at the National My Dinh Stadium in Hanoi tonight to top the group with 10 points, followed by Malaysia (nine points), Singapore (seven points) and Myanmar and Laos (one point each). — Bernama