THE Harimau Malaya roar is back!
Malaysia confounded the critics with a stunning 2-1 win over favourites Thailand in their Pre-World Cup Group G match at the National Stadium today.
Not many had given coach Tan Cheng Hoe’s men a ghost of a chance against the War Elephants.
The man responsible for this momentous night was midfielder Brendan Gan, with a goal (26th minute) and an assist (for Mohamadou Sumareh in the 56th minute).
In the early stages, it looked like the doomsayers would be proven right when table-toppers Thailand drew first blood after just seven minutes.
A swift breakaway on the right saw midfielder Ekanit Panya pick out Japan-based Chanatip Songkrasin to poke the ball past goalkeeper Khairulazhan Khalid.
Malaysia had a good chance to level the score in 11th minute but Syafiq Ahmad, put through by Mohamadou Sumareh, shot straight at goalkeeper Siwarak Tedsungnoen from a tight angle.
Malaysia’s Syamer Kutty picked up the first booking of the game when he was shown the yellow card in 15th minute for tugging at Supachok Sarachat’s jersey.
In the 25th minute, it was Thai midfielder Supachok’s turn to see yellow.
Then, a minute later, the stadium finally erupted with joy.
Syamer broke away on the left and cut the ball back to Brendan to slot past Siwarak for his first international goal.
What a way for his to break his international duck!
Syafiq became the second Malaysian player to be booked by referee Ali Sabah Al-Qaysi for a foul on Tristan Do in the 33rd minute.
In the 39th minute, Chanathip could have put Thailand ahead after receiving a cut-back in the box but he took one touch too many and was closed down by skipper Aidil Zafuan.
Malaysia then had a chance to pull ahead in the 45th minute when Brendan sent Safawi Rasid through.
Safawi, however, shot wide when a cross would have been a better option.
Malaysia continued from where they left off as La’vere Corbin-Ong powered a header just over the bar off a corner in the 48th minute.
Two minutes later, it was Syafiq’s turn to try his luck as he let fly from outside the box. However, he shot straight at Siwarak.
Malaysia were clearly enjoying the second half and in the 56th minute, the stadium rocked again.
Scorer Brendan turned provider this time when he cleverly chipped the ball over two Thai players and Sumareh did the rest with a sumptuous volley from close range.
What an assist. What a goal!
The chances kept coming. In the 65th minute, Malaysia won a free-kick about 35 metres out after Phitiwat Sookjitthammakul fouled Safawi, who picked himself up to unleash a powerful free-kick straight at Siwarak.
In the 73rd minute, Safawi nearly added a third when he shrugged off Thai defender Yusef Elias Dolah but fired wide.
Two minutes later Safawi unleashed a powerful shot from outside the box off a free kick but it was palmed away by the diving Siwarak.
Coach Cheng Hoe then opted for a double change in the 80th minute, bringing on Afiq Fazail for Nor Azam Azih and Matthew Davies for Syahmi.
Thailand then came close to levelling the score when Supachok let fly a volley which goalkeeper Khairulazhan did well to save.
That was enought for Cheng Hoe to make his third and final change of the night as he took out Sumareh for Akhyar Rashid in the 83rd minute.
Malaysia had a few more good changes to extend their lead but fluffed their lines.
In the end, it didn’t matter as the Harimau Malaya players trooped off victorious against all odds.
“My players showed intensity in the match and were rewarded with a win. However, we need to regroup and focus on our next match against Indonesia,” said Cheng Hoe.