Thailand defeated Malaysia 2-1 in an epic final to clinch the inaugural Nations Cup 2016 at the Hang Jebat Stadium in Malacca tonight.
Malaysian head coach Frank Bernhardt made two changes in the first eleven from the squad that defeated Singapore 3-0 in Friday’s semi-finals. The German left out striker Adam Nor Azlin and midfielder Muhd Shahrul Hakim Rahim and introduced midfielder Muhammad Arif Anwar and defender Irfan Zakaria against the Thais.
On the opposite end, Thailand coach Worrawoot Srimaka made only one change in his starting line-up – resting midfielder Baramee Limwattana for Suradet Klankham.
Thailand showed great tenacity going in the final, displaying awesome speed and playing a more progressive game in front of a partisan crowd who had packed the Hang Jebat stadium 30 minutes before the 10pm kick-off.
Midfielder Suradet Klankham set the tone in the third minute for an explosive night by turning in a cross from the right flank. The ball struck the woodwork and rebounded near the boots of Worawut Namvech who made no mistake for Thailand’s opening goal with a blistering shot past goalkeeper Amierul Hakimi Awang.
The Thais made three more unwelcomed visits to the Malaysian goalmouth after this but none bore results. The early setback turned into a ‘wake-up’ call for Bernhardt’s boys who increased their tempo and enjoyed brief moments of pressure on their supposedly more illustrious opponents.
Safawi Rashid posted a well-timed cross from the left flank to a waiting Mohd Jafri Chew inside the box but the young tiger’s striker failed to make a clean stop with only goalkeeper Apirak Worawong in his way.
Local Malacca fans, however, had wanted more from their young guns who answered this call with the equaliser in the 35th minute from Nur Syamie Iszuan Amin. The midfielder picked a cross from Safawi Rashid inside the box and placed it well.
The second half was a touch-and-go affair though the Thais dominated the fourth quarter of the match with several close calls, especially one in the 68th minute when Worawut’s header in front of the goalmouth grazed the left post and went out.
But the Thais were far more poignant in their attacks and it was only a matter of time the Malaysian defensive wall was to crumble. This proved evident in the 78th minute as the Thais led by the three-man attacking machinery of Tanasit Siripala, substitute Montree Promsawat and captain Chenrop Samphaodi orchestrated their second goal.
Tanasit relayed a cross from the right to Montree, who together with Chenrop, had camped in front of the Malaysian goalmouth. The ball fell to Montree, who dummied one defender, and placed the ball to his captain who stroke home the winning goal.
Chenrop, however, was given the marching orders by referee Xaypaseuth Phongsanit from Laos in the 86th minute for a deliberate infringement. But the night belonged to Thailand who went on to celebrate their first-ever Nations Cup victory.
In an earlier match, Vietnam turned on the power in the second half to come back from two goals down to hold Singapore to a 2-2 draw and then delivered the lethal blow in the penalty shootout to win 5-4 and finish third in the tournament.
The Young Lions took the lead 2-0 with goals from Adam Swandi (41st) and Muhd Hazim Faiz Hassan (50th) but allowed Vietnam to fire on all cylinders through Huynh Tan Sinh (56th) and Ha Duc Chan (90th) to take the match into penalty shootout.
“I was hoping my team could win the match in 90 minutes as the boys were pushing until the end. Nevertheless, I am very happy at their performance today. To come back from two goals to force a draw and then win on penalties is commendable,” said Vietnam head coach Hoang Anh Tuan.
“But we have a long way to go before the SEA Games. I believe the Nations Cup has been a good tournament for the Under-21 players as it was a great experience. We came as underdogs and return with the bronze. This is a morale booster experience,” he added.
The match got off on a steady but cautious note though it was the Vietnamese who had a greater share of ball possession. Tien Linh blew away a 35th minute sitter while on the opposite end Muhd Rusyaidi Salime saw his 20-metre shot sail inches over the bar.
Singapore, however, catapulted to lead in the 41st minute, courtesy of an error by goalkeeper Do Sy Huy following a shot by attacking midfielder Adam. The goalkeeper got into position, sprayed his hand out ready to catch the ball which came at waist length but much to his horror saw the ball slip through into goal.
The Young Lions went 2-0 ahead 10 minutes later via a penalty and Muhd Hazim Faiz Hassan was spot but Vietnam rallied back to earn a penalty in the 56th minute. Defender Tan Sinh packed the ball neatly to the right of the net to reduce the deficit 2-1.
Vietnam, however, pushed Singapore to the limits in search of the equaliser. They came close in the 62nd minute when Tien Linh drove home a 15-metre shot but goalkeeper Hairul was in his element to pave it away.
But it was not over for the Vietnamese as they had the final say following a quick counter attack from the right and Duc Chan jabbed the ball past Hairul to wild celebrations in the Vietnamese camp.
Thai goalkeeper Do Sy Huy emerged the hero in the penalty shoot-out with a brilliant save from Muhd Shahrin Saberin.