ONG Kim Swee's changes worked a treat as Malaysia breathed life back into their Sea Games football campaign with a 2-1 win over favourites Thailand at Jakarta's Gelora Bung Karno yesterday. Baddrol Bakhtiar and Izzaq Faris Ramlan scored either side of Natarid Thammroddodpon as Thailand played out the last 15 minutes a man short after one of the players went off injured with all three substitutions already made.
Malaysia’s Nazmi Faiz Mansor (left) is challenged by Thailand’s Chalermsak Kaewsoktae in their Group A match at Gelora Bung Karno yesterday.
Kim Swee praised his side after a display which was much improved from the dour 0-0 Group A draw with Singapore on Monday.
"It was a tough game and Thailand who were playing their first game and faced the same problems we did on Monday when we were a bit unsettled.
"We played very well and created a lot of chances but we put ourselves under unnecessary pressure by not converting them. At the end of day, we showed good character to get the winning goal," said Kim Swee, whose side enjoy a three-day break before facing Cambodia on Sunday.
Kim Swee made four changes from the Singapore match as 17-year-old Nazmi Faiz Mansor belied his age to patrol the midfield with aplomb, making himself available at every opportunity and stifling Thailand's attack.
Nazmi, however, had his time cut short with an injury in the 53rd minute and was replaced by K. Gurusamy.
The defence, apart from the momentary lapse of concentration which led to the equaliser, were outstanding while wingers Fandi Othman and Wan Zaharulnizam Wan Zakaria linked up well with attackers Syahrul Azwari Ibrahim and Baddrol in creating a host of chances.
Thailand, who suffered a second consecutive defeat against Malaysia at the Sea Games, struggled to penetrate the Malaysian box though they did have their chances.
"In the first game we were a bit pressured but tried our hardest. I made several changes for this game and I'm proud of Nazmi, who for a player so young, played like a seasoned pro.
"This is a good sign for our development and I'm sure Nazmi will go on to a bright future," said Kim Swee.
Baddrol's 25th-minute goal was a gem after he neatly controlled the ball from Asraruddin Putra Omar's pass to place his shot beyond the reach of Thai goalkeeper Ukrit Wongweema.
Malaysia survived a scare eight minutes later when Khairul Fahmi Che Mat was beaten by Adisak Krisorn but the post came to his rescue.
The defending champions should have headed into the break 2-0 up but Irfan's flying header from an inch-perfect Fandi Othman cross went agonisingly wide of the far post.
As Thailand poured forward in the search for an equaliser in the second half, Malaysia found plenty of space to exploit and on one lightning counter-attack nearly scored through Wan Zaharulnizam Wan Zakaria, whose long-range strike came off the post in the 59th minute.
Syahrul Azwari was a constant thorn to the Thai defenders and in another counter, broke free in the 66th minute only to squander the chance when he elected to square the ball to Gurusamy, which was intercepted, when in a good position to score.
Thailand were reduced to 10 men in the 75th minute but stunned Malaysia with the equaliser a minute later.
Natarid fired home from the top of the box when the Malaysian defenders allowed him the space and time to fashion his shot.
But out of nothing, Malaysia went in front 2-1 when substitute Izzaq, who replaced Zaharul with 10 minutes left, trapped Baddrol's pass, turned and curled a beautiful effort beyond Ukrit.