KUALA LUMPUR: The national Under-23 football team’s hope of making the final of the Asean Football Federation (AFF) Under-23 Championship were dashed after they fell 4-1 to defending champions Vietnam at the Rayong Provincial Stadium in Thailand today.
Vietnam ended Malaysia’s dream with three well-taken first half goals courtesy of Dinh Xuan Tien (8th and 44th minute) and Nguyen Quoc Viet (32nd minute).
Although coach E Elavarasan’s men managed to get one back through Alif Ikmalrizal Anuar in the 49th minute, Nguyen Hong Phuc wrapped up the rout with Vietnam’s fourth in the 85th minute.
Both teams started well but Vietnam struck the first blow when midfielder Xuan Tien found himself unmarked in the Malaysian box to coolly slot home from close range after receiving a cross from the right from Nguyen Minh Quang.
Buoyed, Vietnam doubled their lead in the 32nd minute when midfield dynamo Quoc Viet let fly a stinger from outside the box.
Vietnam were not done yet as Xuan Tien got his second – and his team’s third – when he applied the finishing touch to a cross from the left from Khuat Van Khang just a minute before the break.
Elavarasan then made three substitutions in the second half, bringing on striker Fergus Tierney to replace Harith Akif Shahar and the move paid off as Alif Ikmalrizal headed home a cross from the right by Aliff Izwan Yuslan just four minutes after the break.
The goal proved to be mere consolation as Vietnam sealed the rout in the 85th minute through defender Nguyen Hong Phuc, who latched onto a cross from substitute Bui Vi Hao to score.
Vietnam will take on either home team Thailand or Indonesia, who meet in the other last four clash tonight, in the final.
Harimau Muda, meanwhile, will slog it out in the third-fourth placing match on Saturday.
The squad advanced to the semifinals after topping Group B while Vietnam were Group C winners.
The national team began their group campaign by edging Indonesia 2-1 on Friday before downing Timor Leste 3-1 on Tuesday.
Malaysia have never qualified for the final of the AFF Under-23 tournament, with their best ever achievement being a fourth-placed finish in the inaugural edition in 2005 in Thailand.
Speaking at the post-match press conference, Elavarasan admitted that his players made a lot of errors in the defensive third of the field and that opened up space for Vietnam to score three goals in the first half.
The 61-year-old coach also dismissed claims of fatigue among his players, who last played on Tuesday, as the main factor behind their tame defeat by Vietnam.
“I cannot say that was an issue because Vietnam (won 1-0 against Philippines) also played on the same day as us,” he said.
The former Sarawak United coach, however, was glad that his team gained experience from playing in a high-level competition in Thailand, saying that was something most of his players lacked.