Danial seals U23 win as Malaysia stun Saudis to progress
Danial Amier Norhisham made history on Tuesday evening, scoring the only goal of the game as Malaysia defeated Saudi Arabia to secure a place in the quarterfinals of the AFC U23 Championship in China.
Danial's 29th-minute strike and a determined rearguard action from Ong Kim Swee's side, coupled with a 1-0 win for Iraq over Jordan, earned Malaysia a place in the knockout rounds in their first-ever appearance at the competition.
The win moved Malaysia on to four points, two more than both Saudi Arabia and Jordan and three fewer than the Iraqis.
Ong's side will now face the winners of Group D, which will be determined on Wednesday.
Malaysia went into the game with Akhyar Rashid retaining his place in the starting line-up after an impressive showing in the draw with Jordan, while Safawi Rashid was looking to add to his tally of two goals from the opening two games.
But few gave the Malaysians a chance against one of the powerhouse nations of Asian football, and a side that featured a number of the Saudi team who reached the final of the AFC U19 Championship in Bahrain in 2016.
The Saudis, who also needed to win to ensure progress to the last eight, started brightly. Fahad Al Rashidi hit the crossbar less than three minutes into the game with an inswinging free kick, while Jaber Asiri threatened with his aerial presence.
Daniel Teglia's team were camped out in the Malaysian half for much of the first quarter of the game. But an over-eagerness, coupled with a disciplined defensive display, ensured Haziq Nadzli was rarely troubled in Malaysia's goal.
It was at the other end, just before the half-hour mark, that the game changed course as the ball fell to Danial on the edge of the Saudi Arabia penalty area, and he swept his shot beyond goalkeeper Amin Al Bukhari.
The goal, while significant, only gave Malaysia a temporary reprieve. Back came the Saudis, with Asiri seeing an attempt cleared off the line by Irfan Zakaria.
A minute before the interval, Abdullah Al Joui squandered his side's best opening of the half. After being released following Abdulelah Al Amri's driving run through the heart of the Malaysian team, the winger went for goal with a trio of teammates unmarked in the six-yard box.
Haziq pushed the ball to safety and Al Joui incurred the wrath of his frontline colleagues.
The Saudis continued to push as the second half began, with Rakan Al Anaze and Al Rashidi both threatening. But the Malaysian defence started the final 45 minutes as they were to go on, showing discipline and determination that forced the Saudis to grow ever-more desperate.
The West Asians sought to take advantage of their height and physicality, launching the ball into the area regularly but Haziq and his defence remained vigilant, while the Saudis' impatience grew.
With seconds left on the clock, Hamdan Al Shamari was given his marching orders as Saudi Arabia's ill-discipline spilled over and Malaysia held on to record a remarkable result.
Michael Church has written about Asian football for more than 20 years and mainly covers the Chinese game for ESPN FC. Twitter: @michaelrgchurch