BY ZULHILMI ZAINAL Follow on Twitter
Just days after Malaysia made history by becoming the first ever Southeast Asian nation to reach the knockout stage of the AFC U-23 Championship, Vietnam topped that feat by becoming the first Southeast Asian side to reach the semis.
The Golden Star had earlier followed the Young Tigers into the quarter-finals, one day after Malaysia defeated Saudi Arabia 1-0 in their last Group C match on Tuesday, to book a spot as group runners up. On Wednesday, Vietnam beat Syria by the same scoreline in their last Group D match.
Although Malaysia's fairy tale run ended at the quarter-final stage with a 2-1 defeat to Korea Republic on Saturday, just hours later Vietnam made sure that the region is still represented in the knockout stages, by defeating Group C winners Iraq 5-3 on penalties, to advance to the final four. Iraq had earlier defeated Malaysia 4-1 in the group stage.
It only took Hang-Seo Park's men 12 minutes to open the scoring at the Changshu Stadium, but Aymen Hussein restored parity in the 29th minute, when the referee awarded a controversial penalty to Iraq. The 1-1 scoreline remained until the end of 90 minutes, necessitating extra-time.
In the 94th minute Hussein gave Iraq the lead, but Vietnam snatched the lead with two quick-fire goals by Phan Van Duc and Hà Duc Chinh, in the 108th and 112th minute respectively. Coincidentally, all three of Vietnam's goals in the match happened following corner kicks.
But Abdul-Ghani Shahad's men again rescued their hopes, when Alaa Mhawi equalised four minutes from time, and the match went into penalties.
The Southeast Asian men held their nerves to score from all their kicks while Iraq's Bashar Resan failed to convert his, the first penalty kick for his team, and Vietnam are through to the semi-finals.
Iraq vs Vietnam match highlights
In the remaining quarter-final fixtures, Uzbekistan hammered Japan 3-0 while Qatar downed Palestine 3-2.
In the semi-finals Vietnam will play Qatar this Tuesday at 7.30pm Malaysian time, while Uzbekistan will take on Korea Republic earlier at 4.00pm on the same day.