Safawi Rashid keeps Malaysia AFC U23 hopes alive
CHANGSHU -- Malaysia kept their hopes of a place in the knockout phase of the 2018 AFC U23 Championship alive as Safawi Rashid's first-half penalty earned Ong Kim Swee's side a 1-1 draw with Jordan on Saturday.
Safawi's spot kick cancelled out Ward Al Barri's opener, with both goals coming in the first half.
Ong and his team will feel they could have taken all three points after Akhyar Rashid and Matthew Davies both hit the post with second-half efforts.
Having lost 4-1 to Iraq on Matchday One of Group C, the result means Malaysia will go into their final game against Saudi Arabia on Tuesday needing to win to have any chance to progress to the last eight in what is their debut appearance at the tournament.
"The late penalty that we had in the first half helped us a lot," Ong said. "We scored, that levelled the game, and it gave them more confidence. That's normal when you play a strong team. You start to believe and we managed to get a point.
"I believe the boys showed good character today. Before the game today, nobody gave us any hope and we almost snatched three points from Jordan, so overall I'm proud of the boys.
"Of course, luck plays a little bit of a role, but the work rate of all the players was great. They worked very, very hard and at the end I think with the two chances, if you don't convert you don't win games."
Jordan went into the game without their star player Baha Faisal. He was handed a two-match ban by the Asian Football Confederation for his behaviour following his side's draw against Saudi Arabia, when Iain Brunskill's side surrendered a two-goal lead in the final 10 minutes.
That left the west Asian nation needing to make a quick start, and they were on top throughout the opening stages. In the 16th minute, Ward Al Barri put his side in front after Mohammad Al Rezam's perfectly flighted ball over the top unlocked the Malaysian defence.
Jordan dominated but were unable to make their superiority pay and, with five minutes of the first half remaining, Akhyar was brought down in the box and the Young Tigers were awarded a penalty. After a delay, Safawi stepped up to smash the ball high into the net.
The goal boosted Malaysia's confidence, and Ong's side were unfortunate not to claim a second.
Akhyar thumped his shot off the post midway through the second half after Safawi had slid the ball into his path, while Davies saw his attempt hit the opposite upright with 17 minutes remaining.
Jordan, too, had chances to take all three points with Ahmed Al Reyahi narrowly missing the target twice in the final 20 minutes, leaving coach Iain Brunskill to rue the absence of Faisal.
"Losing Baha was a massive blow for us," Brunskill said. "We only found out late last night, and the punishment has been handed out. But it is a big blow to our ability to score goals and had he been on the pitch, things might have been different. That's a lesson for him and all of our players really."
Michael Church has written about Asian football for more than 20 years and mainly covers the Chinese game for ESPN FC. Twitter: @michaelrgchurch