Malaysia thrash Myanmar to book semifinal spot in 2017 SEA Games
A brace from N. Thanabalan, coupled with a Safawi Rasid strike, proved enough for Malaysia to whip Myanmar 3-1 in Group A while confirming their Southeast (SEA) Asian Games semifinals berth at Shah Alam Stadium on Monday night.
The victory, orchestrated through two goals in two first-half minutes, will see Malaysia top their group should they overcome Laos in the final group game on Wednesday.
For this match, Malaysia coach Ong Kim Swee again shuffled his line up, starting with Thanabalan and Muhamad Nor Azam Abdul Azih, who were both on target in the 2-1 win over Singapore on Wednesday.
Even though the hosts were playing in front of a capacity 80,000 crowd, the threat of Myanmar, who had scored 11 goals in three games, was very much prevalent.
With both teams holding perfect records in the group stage, this match was expected to get off to a cracking start.
It did not go as expected with both sides giving away possession cheaply in the opening half.
But the tempo soon picked up and Myanmar forward Aung Thu was presented with a golden opportunity to put the in-form visitors ahead in the 18th minute.
Having scored four goals already, the hot shot striker was expected to bury a free header which came his way two yards from goal.
Inexplicably, Aung Thu headed wide, and Malaysia were let off.
The hosts soon took control, and should have gone ahead themselves through Irfan Zakaria's free kick, which was tipped onto the post by a full stretch Sann Sat Naing.
Malaysia did not have to wait long to take the lead through Thanabalan, who steered home Matthew Davies's cross in the 33rd minute.
With their tails up, Malaysia extended their lead a minute later.
This time, S. Kumaahran turned provider, curling in a perfect delivery from the left wing for the onrushing Safawi to nod past Sann to make it 2-0.
The Johor Darul Ta'zim winger ended the half with a rising effort, as Malaysia headed into the break fully in control, as the bumper crowd turned up the decibels.
Myanmar needed an answer fast to turn the tide after the break, but found the Malaysians snapping at their heels to close down any pockets of free space.
Kumaahran and Davies both tested Sann on the hour mark as Malaysia looked to put the game to bed against a tepid Myanmar who looked void of ideas.
The White Angels did get an opening in the 77th minute after Malaysia's offside trap failed. But Haziq Nadzli, who little to do until then, made himself big to deny the forward.
Malaysia confirmed victory in the 82nd minute through a gem strike from Thanablan. He flung himself to meet Jafri Firdaus Chew's cross, and find the bottom corner.
Myanmar did get a consolation goal through their substitute Than Paing two minutes from time.
But they will now need Laos, who beat Brunei 3-0 in an earlier Group A match, to pull off an upset against Malaysia in order to finish as group champions above the host nation.
Malaysia: Haziq Nadzli (GK), Matthew Davies, Adib Zainuddin (C), Safawi Rasid (Akhyar Abdul Rashid 66'),N. Thanabalan, Muhamad Nor Azam Azih (Daniel Amier 57'), Adam Nor Azlin, S. Kumaahran (Jafri Firdaus Chew 78'), Syazwan Andik,Syamer Kutty Abba, Irfan Zakaria
Myanmar: Sann Sat Naing (GK), Nan Wai Min, Htike Htike Aung, Nanda Kyaw, Ye Yint Tun (Shwe Ko 70'), Aung Thu, Si Thu Aung (C), Mg Mg Lwin, Yan Naing OO, Aung Kaung Mann (Than Paing 58'), Thiha Htet Aung
Nicolas Anil is a former Malay Mail and Goal.com Malaysia editor/writer who appears on BFM Radio as a football analyst. Twitter: @nicolas_anil.