MALAYSIA are on course to end their 20-year gold drought in the men’s SEA Games football competition when they sent host nation Laos packing 3-1 in the semi-finals last night.
The National Under-23 squad, decimated by injuries and suspensions to key players, will now take on Vietnam, who defeated Singapore 4-1 in the other match, in the final on Thursday.
Baddrol Bakhtiar starred with a brace in the 14th and 79th minutes while Safiq Rahim added the third in the 85th minute to silence the Laotian fans in the packed 20,000-capacity Main Stadium of the National Sports Complex. Kanlaya Sysomvong scored Laos’ lone reply in the 73rd minute.
National coach K. Rajagopal admitted that the game was drifting away from his team after the first goal “as we did not close down our opponents”.
“We had some tense moments in the game, especially after they equalised. But I had faith in my playes that they could get back and in the end the game ended positively for us,” said Rajagopal.
“The final against Vietnam will be interesting indeed because we lost to them in our group match. But then, nobody gave us a ghost of a chance when we first came here. So, let’s see what we can do in the final.”
Last night, the Malaysians silenced the home team with an early goal.
Striker Abdul Manaf Mamat sent in a perfect cross for the lurking Baddrol to execute a spectacular scissor-kick past Laos goalkeeper Souvanpheng Phanthavong in the 14th minute.
Malaysia surprisingly failed to step up their game after the early goal and started to give the ball away cheaply. Luckily for them Laos failed to capitalise on their sloppy play.
Laos nearly snatched the equaliser in the 65th minute but Sharbinee was equal to the task when he saved midfielder Kanlaya Sysomvang’s pile-driver.
But there was no stopping Kanlaya in the 73rd minute when his snap shot from outside the box sailed past Sharbinee.
Six minutes later Malaysia were back in front when Baddrol slotted the ball in after latching on to S. Kunalan’s attempt which rebounded off the crossbar.
Laos’ hopes of a fightback was well and truly over when Safiq scored the third goal five minutes from time after Norsharul weaved past two defenders to present him with an open chance.
Malaysia last won the gold medal in the 1989 KL SEA Games. Since then, they have managed only a silver (2001 KL) and two bronzes (2003 Vietnam, 2005 Manila).