Malaysia sent Viet Nam crashing out of the AFF Suzuki Cup with a goalless draw in their semi-final second leg at Ha Noi's My Dinh National Stadium on Saturday.
HA NOI —
Malaysia made the final of the biennial championship for the first time in 14 years following the 2-0 advantage they earned in Kuala Lumpur four days ago.
After the game, chief coach K. Rajagobal said that although the football might not have been entertaining, they totally deserved the result.
"I cannot express what I feel right now. The players showed the real ‘harimau' – the Malaysian tiger. We knew that it was going to be a tough match but we were confident and we were disciplined in defence and followed the game plan," said Rajagobal.
"The first 15 to 20 minutes were crucial and we knew if we conceded a goal it would spell trouble for us. Our defence was good considering two of them are under 21 years old, it speaks volumes about their future.
"I told them tonight, we must play simple and while it might look ugly, we just have to make the clearance, no matter what. Our captain [Safiq Rahim] is a naturally attacking player but tonight, he was told to play deeper and he did."
The onus was always going to be on Viet Nam and in front of a sell-out crowd of 40,000, the home team wasted no time in pushing forward from South Korean referee Kim Sang-woo's first whistle.
The return of Nguyen Trong Hoang gave more bite on the left flank and he made Malaysian leftback Mohd Asraruddin Putra Omar work overtime to ensure his crosses did not make into the Malaysian box.
In the ninth minute, Hoang shot through a sea of legs but there were no takers at the far post.
Barely a minute later, tragedy struck for Viet Nam with Phan Van Tai Em stretchered off with a suspected broken arm following a clash with Malaysia's Mohd Safee Sali.
His replacement, Le Tan Tai, took over where he had left off and his double shot saw Malaysian goalkeeper Khairul Fahmi Che Mat rise to the occasion.
Malaysia's only chance in the first half was a curling shot from Norshahrul Idlan Talaha which narrowly missed the upright.
Viet Nam did not let up on the pressure in the second half but they just couldn't seem to find a way past Khairul as he stood firm to frustrate the home team.
In the 62nd minute, Viet Nam should have taken the lead but lanky striker Nguyen Viet Thang could only head Pham Thanh Luong's cross tamely into the path of Khairul.
About ten minutes later, Viet Nam's frustration was complete when Luong took a dive in the box leaving the referee with little choice but to show him his second yellow card of the game.
"I'm responsible for the loss, don't criticise the players. If you need to criticise anyone, criticise me," said Viet Nam chief coach Henrique Calisto at the post match press conference.
"We did not lose here, we lost in Kuala Lumpur and I think that we were the better team over both legs. Sometimes, we win and sometimes we lose – that's life. Show me a coach who never loses.
"The loss of Luong was unfortunate although I agreed with the referee's decision."
Malaysia will meet with Indonesia who defeated the Philippines 1-0 in the second semi-final match yesterday. —VNS