|MAN OF THE MATCH
Wan Zack Haikal
Malaysia U23 2-1 Myanmar U23
The Malaysia Under-23 defeated their Burmese counterparts in the second round of the Merdeka Tournament to consolidate their place in the final.
The home side were down 1-0 at the break after Nay Lin Tun struck against the run of play in the 38th minute, but they were revived by Irfan Fazail’s equaliser in the second half and later, deservedly took the lead courtesy of a Wan Zack Haikal freekick.
Defensively, the Young Tigers were dogged in keeping out Myanmar effectively except for the one slip out that allowed Lin Tun to score.
However, it was Wan Zack’s menacing runs and constant pops at goal that earned Malaysia the three points at the Darul Makmur Stadium.
Using his pace and trickery, the 22-year-old bossed the flanks leaving the Burmese defenders chasing shadows.
He was also not goal-shy as he enjoyed cutting in from the wings to take shots - a very Arjen Robben-like display from the young lad.
Very often he found himself in a striker’s role, helping out Thamil Arasu who was deployed as a targetman by head coach Ong Kim Swee.
Wan Zack had several wasted opportunities, those that he should have scored, but his notable contributions came in the second half, seconds before Irfan netted the equaliser.
His deft chip of a free kick fooled the Burmese defence - as they expected a shot - and found the head of Junior Eldstal who headed on for the Malaysia Under-23 captain to score from close range.
The FC Ryukyu player then exhibited his dead-ball prowess once again when he scored the winning goal for the Young Tigers from a freekick 20 metres out. His pinpoint shot swerved elegantly over the wall and into the top corner as the Burmese goalkeeper Phaye Phya Aung was left rooted to the ground.
There is no doubt that Wan Zack is first-XI calibre for the Young Tigers and it’s a matter of time before he is a regular feature with the senior side.