BY ZULHILMI ZAINAL Follow on Twitter
A 78th minute goal by Chenrop Samphaodi gave Thailand the Nations Cup title, when they beat hosts Malaysia 2-1 in the final match at the Hang Jebat Stadium.
The Thais earned their spot in the final after defeating Vietnam U21 2-0 in the first match, while the hosts went through after they defeated Singapore U21 3-0.
The Thais did not need long to open the scoring. A freekick from halfway between the halfway line and the goal bounced against the goal post, beating Malaysia goalkeeperAmierul Hakimi Awang, and defender Worawut Namvech only needed a simple tap-in to give his team an early lead.
Tanasit Siripala almost doubled his side's lead in the 10th minute after a scintillating one-two move with a teammate, but Malaysia goalkeeper Amierul Hakimi Awang moved out quickly to close the angle of Siripala's attempt.
In the 15th minute, a quick counter by Malaysia ended with Safawi Rashid sending in an early low cross from the left. Forward Jafri Chew could have finished it with a tap in the penaty box, but he inexplicably hopped over the ball and avoided it.
In the 26th minute, Thailand midfielder Chaiyawat Buran became the first player to be booked in the match, for a cynical challenge on Arif Anwar.
When Malaysia did find the equaliser in the 35th minute, it almost came out of nowhere. A diagonal long pass from deep within Malaysia's half by Safawi Rashid found Shamie Iszuan Amin, who was barely marked down the right wing. He ran towards the Thailand goalkeeper Apripak Worawong and slotted the ball past him.
The tempo of the match picked up afterwards, with Malaysia dominating possession and doing most of the attacking.
Thailand head coach Worrawoot Srimaka then made his first change three minutes before halftime, swapping injured defender Santipap Channgom for Janepob Phokhi.
Five minutes into the second half, Nattawut Sombatyotha was fed a pass by his teammate at the edge of the Malaysian penalty box, but his shot sailed over the crossbar.
In the 51st minute, Thailand captain Chenrop Samphaodi became his side's second player to be booked, for stamping on an opponent.
In the next ten minutes, Malaysia quickly caught up in the booking tally after defender Irfan Zakaria and midfielder Khairil Anuar Zamri earned Malaysia's first and second bookings.
Skipper Faris Shah Rosli was then booked for a challenge at the edge of the Malaysia box.
Thailand lead again in the 78th minute, through a goal by Samphaodi. A passing error by the Malaysian midfied ended in a long pass from inside the Thailand half, one that found Tanasit Siripala who was unmarked on the left, along with two of his teammates. He dribbled in and drew Amierul out to the left, before laying off the ball to Samphaodi who was waiting in the middle, who then tapped the ball in easily.
With the pressure getting to the hosts, Jaffri got himself on the booking list, for a silly challenge.
With time running out, Samphaodi was given a second yellow for time wasting. He was injured but when the referee called the stretcher, he found some 'difficulties' getting on it, with Malaysian players gathering around him trying to give him some unfriendly assistance. He was finally stretchered off, but did not need to return to action after all as he was booked on his way out.
The match ended 2-1 to the Thais, and they are the champions of the inaugural edition of the 2016 Nations Cup.
Thailand U21 :
Apripak Worawong (GK), Worawut Namvech, Suriya Singmui, Shinnaphat Leeaoh, Santipap Channgom (Janepob Phokhi 42'), Nattawut Sombatyotha, Chaowat Veerachart, Tanasit Siripala, Suradet Klankham, Chaiyawat Buran (Montree Promsawat 61'), Chenrop Samphaodi.
Malaysia U21 :
Amierul Hakimi Awang (GK), Ariff Farhan Md Isa, Faris Shah Rosli, Irfan Zakaria (Zuasyraf Zulkiefli 63'), Adib Zainuddin, Khairil Anuar Zamri, Arif Anwar (Faisal Abdul Halim 67'), Shamie Iszuan Amin, Safawi Rashid (Syafiq Ahmad 82'), Syazwan Andik Ishak, Jafri Chew.