YANGON: Nippy winger Faisal Halim and goalkeeper Syihan Hazmi starred for Malaysia as they kicked off their Asean Football Federation (AFF) Cup 2022 campaign on a winning note with a 1-0 triumph over Myanmar at the Thuwunna Stadium today.
While Faisal scored the all-important goal in the 52nd minute, Harimau Malaya owe the victory to Syihan as well for pulling off numerous saves, including from a penalty, in the Group B opener.
The three points give Malaysia the perfect platform in their quest to qualify for the semifinals and end their 12-year wait for the cup.
But it wasn’t all smooth sailing for Malaysia as the hosts took charge of the proceedings in front of 2,500 spectators with fast and short passes in possession and quick retreats to close the gaps when defending.
Myanmar, coached by Antoine Hey, sounded an early warning when midfielder Lwin Moe Aung’s long-range attempt in the eighth minute sailed just wide.
Myanmar then blew another chance in the 19th minute when striker Aung Kaung Mann was slow to pull the trigger after receiving a pass from Moe Aung.
After failing to create a single chance in the first 20 minutes, Faisal had the chance to capitalise on a Myanmar mistake but missed the target from close range.
With both teams tied at 0-0 at halftime, Harimau Malaya coach Kim Pan-gon decided to bring on naturalised striker Lee Tuck to replace Darren Lok after the break and it did not take long for the substitute to make an impact.
Using his speed to maximum impact, Tuck intercepted a pass and relayed it to Safawi Rasid, whose through ball to Faisal was drilled past Myanmar goalkeeper Kyaw Zin Phyo in the 52nd minute.
Stung by the goal, Myanmar launched a series of attacks but the Malaysian defence, ably marshalled by Sharul Nazeem Zulpakar, managed to keep them at bay.
Undeterred, Myanmar kept pushing for the equaliser and Kyaw Min Oo nearly answered their prayers but his long-range piledriver was pushed out by Syihan.
But towards the end of the match the referee awarded Myanmar a spotkick after Sharul handled the ball in the Malaysian box.
Fortunately for Malaysia, Syihan dived to his left to deny Myat Kaung Khant and preserve Harimau Malaya’s slim lead until the final whistle.
The national team will now take on Laos at the National Stadium in Bukit Jalil on Saturday before travelling to Hanoi to face Vietnam on Dec 27
The squad will then take on Singapore in Bukit Jalil on Jan 3.
The top two teams from Group A and Group B will advance to the semifinals.