Malaysia notched an impressive 2-1 win over Yemen with only 10 players, but that was not enough to take them to Australia next year.
BY ZULHILMI ZAINAL Follow on Twitter
Malaysia went into the final match of their Group D 2015 Asia Cup qualification stage against Yemen needing to overcome insurmountable odds. Besides needing a win over the bottom-placed Yemenis, Malaysia were also hoping that Hong Kong, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq would lose in order for them to qualify as the best third-placed team in the whole of the qualifiers.
However as if the situation was not challenging enough for the Tigers, centreback Amirizwan Taj made it even harder for them. He was sent off in the 10th minute for a last man foul in the penalty box. Luckily enough, Khairul Fahmi dived the right way to save Waheed Al Khyat's meek penalty and save Malaysia's hide. Malaysia's former skipper Safiq Rahim did not look too happy when he was taken off by Ong Kim Swee to bring in Fadhli Shas just moments later, to plug in the gap vacated by Amirizwan.
Bizarrely, it was Malaysia who opened the scoring despite playing with only ten men, ten minutes later. A freekick taken by Hafiz Kamal just outside of the home side's penalty box was spilled by goalkeeper Saoud al Sowadi, and Amri Yahya was lightning quick to head the ball in.
In the 31st minute, Fahmi produced two succesive saves to keep Malaysia's lead. It is this defensive porousness that had led to the sending off of Amirizwan earlier. The first half ended 1-0 to Malaysia, but Yemen were already knocking on their opponents' door.
Malaysia started their second half much more tentatively and playing more slowly, determined to defend their lead. However this resulted in them conceding, in the 59th minute. Poor marking by right back Mahali Jasuli provided space for Ala'a Al Sasi to slot the ball near the far post to equalise for Yemen.
Four minutes later, Al Sasi nearly made it double through a free kick from the edge of the box. However Fahmi never took his eyes of the ball, and managed to palm away the attempt, whick looked to be going in at the top right corner.
But Malaysia nevertheless managed to find the lead again in the 77th minute. A curling freekick by Nazrin Nawi from the left, after he was brought down for the umpteenth time, found Fakri Saarani in the box, who bonked the ball home for Malaysia's second.
After that, Malaysia learnt their lessons, and defended much more tightly to ward off wave after wave of Yemeni attacks and to keep their lead. At the final whistle, the scoreline was 2-1 to the visitors. It might seem like an impressive win with only ten men, but in the grand scheme of things, it ultimately amounted to nothing. China had moments earlier qualified as the best third-placed team, despite being beaten by Iraq 3-1 in their last Group C match.