KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia's hope of booking an early semi-final ticket suffered a setback when they were beaten 3-0 by Vietnam in their Group B match of the 2020 AFF Suzuki Cup championship at Singapore's Bishan Stadium on Sunday (Dec 12) night.
Malaysia were punished for failing to adapt quickly to the high-intensity match as Vietnam scored twice in a space of four minutes in the first half before sealing the game with their third goal in the dying minutes of the match.
It is also Malaysia's sixth defeat in their last seven clashes with Vietnam and the fifth for Tan against the Golden Dragon since taking charge of the national team in 2017.
“It’s always a difficult game against Malaysia so I’m delighted to win," said Vietnam's coach Park Hang-seo, who guided the team to the 2018 title.
“I believe in my players and I’m satisfied with the win but as to whether or not this makes us the favourites now is not something that I can answer. How people view our team is something that we’ll leave to other people.”
During Sunday's match, Malaysia had a scare in the second minute when skipper Mohamad Aidil Zafuan Abd Radzak failed to clear the ball with his header and presented Nguyen Cong Phuong with a chance. But the latter ballooned his shot.
Nguyen Cong Phuong again tested the Malaysian goalmouth with a short-range shot in the 10th minute, but it was well fielded by goalkeeper Khairul Fahmi Che Mat.
Malaysia was then dealt a blow when Mohamad Aidil had to be carried out on a stretcher in the 24th minute after suffering a thigh injury.
Dominic Tan was brought in to partner with Shahru Mohd Saad. Vietnam fully exploited this situation when Nguyen Quang Hai capitalised on a defensive error to put his team ahead in the 32nd minute.
A minute later, Malaysia was presented with their best chance to equalise, after a Vietnam defender back-header the ball to the feet of an unguarded Luqman Hakim Shamsudin. However, the 19-year-old strike's left-foot shot went off target.
The poor combination between Sharul and Dominic proved costly as Nguyen Cong Phuong easily went past them, before tricking Dominic and letting fly a right-footed shot which beat Khairul Fahmi in the 36th minute.
Malaysia mounted some dangerous moves at the end of the first half, but Muhammad Syafiq Ahmad failed to score with a header in the 38th minute, and a right-footed attempt in added time.
After the interval, Malaysia brought in Guilherme De Paula and M Kogileswaran in a bid to turn the tide while Vietnam began to slow the pace.
Malaysia was later hit by further injuries, forcing its coach to substitute Shahrul with Muhammad Ariff Farhan Md Isa, as well as bringing in striker Muhammad Shahrel Fikri Md Fauzi.
However, Vietnam proved to be a class above by absorbing whatever Malaysia could throw at them before scoring their third goal in the 89th minute through Nguyen Hoang Duc.
In an earlier Group B match, Indonesia scored their second straight victory by thrashing Laos 5-1 at the same venue.
Kydavone Souvanny netted Laos’ only goal in the 41st minute.
For Malaysia, it is now a case of regrouping ahead of their final match with Indonesia.
"We fought hard but we lost to the better team so we need to stay focused and concentrate on the next match against Indonesia," said Tan.
“Of course we are dealing with injuries and COVID issues and that means that the morale is low in the squad. I think also that we gave Vietnam too much respect and played with too much caution in defending deep so we have a lot to learn and this was a big lesson for us."
With the win, Indonesia now has six points, the same as Vietnam and Malaysia. Indonesia next plays Vietnam on Dec 15 and then faces off against Malaysia four days later.
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