Strikers Najib Abdullah, Amirul Syazwan and Kogileswaran Raj fired Harimau Muda U-16 2014 to a 3-1 victory over defending champions Chonburi FA in the first leg semi-finals of the Asia Champions Trophy Under-16 2014 (ACT 2014) at Frenz Stadium on Saturday.
It was just another day of a dramatic performance from coach S. Balachandran’s young tigers in the ACT 2014 as they clawed back from a Sittichok Paso 16th minute goal – his 15th in the tournament, to sent the Thais packing home bruised and battered.
The Malaysians take a two-goal advantage going into the return leg tie on August 18 in Chonburi and Balachandran feels Saturday’s victory has been an ideal challenge by his players to test their mettle against one of the strongest side in ACT 2014 and also justify their position for a slot in the August 23 and August 30 home-and-away final.
Balachandran paraded his most fortified line-up against the Thais with Kogisleswaran leading the charge upfront. The former Bukit Bandaraya student in Bangsar, who joined the FA of Malaysia Academy in Gambang last year, has been a bane to many defenders and proved his prowess once again.
Skipper Mohd Shahrul Akmal marshalled from the middle, Najib played his role mapped out clearly for him from the left flank extremely well with Mohd Zulkhairi on the right and Dinesh Rajasingam occasionally lurking dangerously to unsettle the visitors. It was Harimau Muda Under-16’s most lethal strike force.
“I am very excited with this win. The boys showed tremendous patience and mental strength to come back after going down early in the game. But we can also expect an equally strong fight back from Chonburi in the return leg match. They are not going to rest here,” said Balachandran.
“We have one week to prepare our strategy against the Thais and I believe the boys know what to expect and what needs to be done. Our ultimate goal is to qualify for the final,” he added.
Backed by an estimated 2,000 folks of Janda Baik which includes FA of Malaysia General-Secretary Dato’ Hamidin Mohd Amin, the Malaysians and Thais got off to a cautious start, not wanting to be far too adventurous in the early minutes of play.
The defending champions arrived in Janda Baik with Peerayat Kaminthong, the team’s mastermind, lurking in the middle, Sittichok who bagged the Most Valuable Player and Top Striker awards at the 2013 ACT Under-15 championships, and Kritthanapong Paidaen marauding dangerously from the flanks.
After a couple of near misses from both sides, Chonburi FA struck first through Sittichok with a thunderbolt 35-metre shot which caught goalkeeper Mohd Asri Mohd off guard as the ball sailed the near the far left post and dipped into the net.
Buoyed by the early goal, the Thais, who have been unbeaten throughout the Group B preliminary round stage, further exploited the situation by pressing on upfront but were denied by their own sloppy finishing.
However, in a sudden burst of attack in the 27th minute, the young tigers won their second corner of the day. Kogileswaran turned the ball in and Najib headed it past goalkeeper Chakon Philakhlang. Harimau Muda 1 Chonburi FA 1.
The match tempo turned intensive in the second half with the Thais having a strong grip in the early minutes and almost went 2-1 up had striker Saharat Sontisawat pounced on a loose ball in front of the Malaysian goalmouth.
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