Malaysia took a big step to ignite their Asia Cup qualifying campaign with an emphatic 2-1 victory over Yemen at the Shah Alam Stadium
With all the furore in the Yemeni camp after four of their players were reported to have sneaked out of their accommodation for a night out the night before the match, it was reasonable for the Malaysia fans to expect them to be somewhat out-of-sorts.
But it was Yemen who surprisingly opened the scoring when Al-Hagri pounced on some loose passing by the Malaysian defence, before curling the ball over the Malaysian goalkeeper Khairul Fahmi in the 11th minute to make it 1-0 to the visitors.
The goal put pressure on Malaysia who almost conceded another goal a few minutes later from a Yemeni counter attack, and Mahali Jasuli had to resort to a cynical foul, which he was booked for, to stop yet another attack in the 18th minute.
However Mahali redeemed himself in the 26th minute when his determined run down the right flank caused commotion in the Yemeni penalty box. This resulted in one of the Yemeni defenders inadvertently knocking the ball across the goal and into the path of Azamudin Akil who did not miss from five yards.
The rather fortuitous goal calmed the nerves of the Tigers and Mahali himself nearly added their second from a trademark run in the 30th minute, but his attempt was deflected away.
The match then evened out, but for a few chances here and there, including yet another attempt by Norshahrul in the 41st minute, and a header from Fadhli Shas from the ensuing corner kick.
The cautious flow of the match carried over into the second half with both teams looking rather hesitant to fully commit to attacking, opting instead for slow build-ups.
In the 58th minute Mat-yo spurned a glorious chance when he failed to properly make contact with a cross from the right to put it past the goalkeeper.
The following corner resulted in a header which narrowly flew over the goalpost.
Malaysia were almost caught out against the run of play again two minutes later when a long pass down the Yemeni right flank found a Yemeni forward who was under minimal marking from Azamudin, he chipped the ball over Khairul Fahmi but it went just slightly over the bar.
In the 67th minute, Amri Yahyah missed a chance to put Malaysia in front after he attemped to pounce on a goalkeeping error by the Yemeni goalkeeper Salem Awad who spilled the ball under no pressure, however the forward was unable to get a shot away before the keeper recovered. This was his last meaningful action as he was substituted out for Khyril Muhymeen not long after.
Malaysia were visibly more desperate after this, and Norshahrul could not have chosen a worse time to miss two sitters in quick succession. The first attempt with the entire goal to aim at he only found the arms of Salem Awad, while for the second chance he drilled wide with his left foot when a goal looked certain
However with 10 minutes remaining he made amends by delivering an inch-perfect cross for Khyril to head home to send the supporters into a frenzy as he made it 2-1 to the home team.
The scoreline remained until the final whistle and Malaysia gained three precious points to keep their qualification hopes alive.