CRUISING: Kim Swee’s boys finish with maximum points
MALAYSIA produced a dominating performance to end their round robin campaign in the Merdeka Tournament with maximum points when they overcame Thailand 3-0 at Darulmakmur Stadium in Kuantan yesterday.
Ong Kim Swee's team will play Myanmar, who edged Singapore 2-0 at Temerloh Stadium yesterday, for the title on Saturday, a repeat of the 2007 final which Malaysia won 3-1.
Malaysia hold the distinction of defeating Myanmar, then known as Burma, 3-0 in 1968 in their only other meeting in the Merdeka Tournament final.
Malaysia topped the standings with three wins while Myanmar and Thailand finished level on four points but Myanmar finished ahead on goal difference. Winless Singapore were last.
Nasir Basharuddin made a memorable debut by scoring in the opening minutes before Rozaimi Abdul Rahman's brace in the 28th and 80th minutes.
The absence of centre-back Mahamasabri Awaebuesa, who was suspended, affected the Thai backline as Malaysia dominated the match.
As expected, national youth coach Ong Kim Swee rested several regulars and gave Shahrul Saad, Nazirul Naim Che Hashim, Saiful Riduwan Selamat and Nasir their first starts along with Sabahan Razaimi, who came on as an 87th minute substitute against Singapore, in the tournament.
Kim Swee said those, who played for the first time yesterday, gave a good performance.
"Seven starters were with the Young Tigers A squad in Slovakia, and you could see the game was more fluent.
"However, I expect the eight non-Tigers players to pick up through training as a unit.
"Nasir did well today. His passing and understanding with others was exceptional, and he was composed by scoring a goal. Rozaimi scored a brace but I want to see more from him."
It was a memorable outing for Nasir, a Kuala Kangsar-born, who scored from a long range grounder in the 12th minute.
The 23-year-old, who plays for Perak, was the first to latch on to a loose ball off a free kick clearance by Thailand before striking it past the crowded penalty box and into the net.
Malaysia continued to dominate proceedings and almost extended their lead eight minutes later but Rozaimi failed to take advantage of a fumble by Thailand goalkeeper Arikhan Same.
In a quick counter-attack, Thailand had their first chance in the 24th minute when Pinyo Inpinit latched on to a goal kick from keeper Arikhan before going past a defender but his far post attempt was cleared by Malaysia custodian Mohd Izham Tarmizi Roslan.
After a wasteful attempt by S. Sivanesan, Malaysia scored a second through Rozaimi off a D. Saarvindran's low cross from the right in the 28th minute.
Rozaimi, who starred in last year's AFC Under-22 Qualifiers with 10 goals, however, can count himself lucky as the nervy striker's first attempt bounced off the keeper before slamming home into an empty net.
Thailand's leaky defence failed to contain Kim Swee's team as the homesters could have added another two or three goals in the first half if their finishing was better.
After the breather, Rozaimi missed two opportunities in the space of three minutes, first a header in the 47th minute and then a weak attempt saved by Thai keeper Arikhan.
Rozaimi got it right in the 80th minute when he dribbled past several Thailand defenders before scoring with a grounder.
Kim Swee brought on Nik Shahrul Azim Abdul Halil, Azrif Nasrulhaq and 16-year-old Ariff Farhan in the second half.