KUALA LUMPUR: Striker Muhammad Shahrel Fikri Md Fauzi scored a hattrick as Malaysia mauled Timor Leste 5-1 in the second leg of the 2022 World Cup/Asian Cup first round qualifiers, at the Bukit Jalil National Stadium here tonight.
After defeating 195th-ranked team 7-1 in the first leg on Friday, the Harimau Malaya squad showed impressive form in the return leg to record a 12-2 aggregate win over the minnows, sending the 12,700 spectators into cheers.
Coach Tan Cheng Hoe made only four changes to the starting line-up from the first leg, bringing in goalkeeper Mohd Ifwat Akmal Chek Kassim, defender Muhammad Syazwan Andik, winger Muhammad Akhyar Rashid and striker Muhammad Shahrel Fikri Md Fauzi.
Malaysia, which is ranked 168th in the world, had a good start as Perak-born Muhmmad Shahrel scored a brace after netting in a short pass from Muhammad Akhyar in the 11th minute and a header in the 17th minute.
The Rising Sun squad then had a golden chance to reduce the margin when Mohd Ifwat brought down Rufino Walter Gama in the 29th minute, but the Kedah stopper made things right again by saving the spot-kick taken by skipper Joao Pedro da Silva Freitas.
Malaysia’s first naturalised player, Mohamadou Sumareh ended his goalless run in the national team after converting a short cross from Muhammad Syazwan Andik in the 37th minute, while Muhammad Akhyar added another to the scoreline in the 54th minute.
Shortly after missing a penalty when Danilson Conceicao Araujo fouled Muhammad Akhyar, Muhammad Shahrel finally completed his hattrick in the 64th minute, confusing goalkeeper Fernandes Aderito Raul with his left leg effort.
Rufino’s header in the 72nd minute helped Timor Leste get a goal back through a quick counterattack led by Pedro.
So far, this is the biggest win recorded in the first round of the qualifiers this season, as Guam managed to eliminate Bhutan 5-1 on aggregate.
Harimau Malaya’s goals in the first leg were scored by Corbin Ong Lawrence (11th minute), Muhammad Shahrel Fikri Md. Fauzi (23’), Norshahrul Idlan Talaha (43’), Muhammad Safawi Rasid (45’ and 59’), Mohd Faiz Nasir (78’) and Muhammad Akhyar Rashid (89’), while Timor Leste’s consolation goal was scored by skipper Joao Pedro da Silva Freitas in the 52nd minute.
“Overall I think our target was to qualify for the next round and we have achieved it. All the sacrifice of the players during the festive season and Ramadan month has paid off, they gave their best.
“Of course, for today, I am quite satisfied with the overall performance of players, their attitude going into the match, and (they) played with full concentration. We need to get ready for the group stage next,” Cheng Hoe said in the post-match press conference.
Six winners from the first round, including Malaysia, will be joined by the 34 highest-ranked teams in Asia in the next round, including newly crowned Asian champions and 2022 World Cup hosts, Qatar.
In the second round, scheduled for September, the 40 teams will be drawn into eight groups of five teams each. Only the group winners and four best second-placed teams will earn a place in the third round of the World Cup qualifiers and automatic slot to the Asian Cup.
The draw for the second round is expected to be held in Doha, Qatar, next month.