|MAN OF THE MATCH
Malaysia U-23 4-1 Laos U-23
Hazwan Bakri had rarely started for Ong Kim Swee's Harimau Muda, often finding himself playing second fiddle to the much more flamboyant forwards Rozaimi Rahman, Thamil Arasu and the currently-injured Wan Zack Haikal. The 22-year old might even finish out his stint with the Young Tigers quietly in the SEA Games, had it not been for the long-term injury faced by Wan Zack before the tournament and Rozaimi's lack of finishing in their opener against Brunei. Even with Rozaimi stuttering in the match and Brunei looking very close to scoring against them, Kim Swee still could not be convinced to bring Hazwan on. Somehow, the head coach changed his mind (or perhaps just to rest Rozaimi) and Hazwan got to start the match against Laos earlier.
And he instantly repaid his coach's faith in him, scoring as early as the seventh minute through a thunderous shot into the roof of the net, after pouncing the quickest on a loose ball from an earlier attempt of his. Although afterwards the Tigers looked a little shaky, with Hazwan himself wasting a few good chances and Laos even finding themselves an equaliser, the Malaysians rode the tide calmly to retake the lead and conquer Thim Xad in the second half.
Their (and his) second came after the Labuan-born lad latched on well to Irfan Fazail's pass before burying the ball in the back of the net with a half volley, again suggesting that he may have as much flamboyance in the goal-scoring department as his better-known teammates do.
When Malaysia found their third 20 minutes later courtesy of a Laos own goal, it seemed that it was time for everyone to shut up shop and start figuring out their next match against a more-fancied Singapore. But Malaysia's man of the hour was not done yet.
He found his hat-trick in the 87th minute, this time through a much more straight forward tap-in following a low cross by Nazmi Faiz.
The player who previously had always been second choice for Kim Swee, now may find himself a serious contender to be in the starting list against Singapore on Sunday. And that is not necessarily a bad thing for the team, Rozaimi and him. Prior to the tournament, Rozaimi had been used primarily as a super sub, and he has expressed his preference to be played in that role. Against Singapore, Kim Swee could make use of Hazwan's form by starting him again, and by bringing on Rozaimi in the second half for that one-two punch, that will take Malaysia closer to their third consecutive football SEA Games gold.