BY ZULHILMI ZAINAL Follow on Twitter
Malaysia earned a 1-1 draw at home against Afghanistan at the Shah Alam Stadium on Tuesday night, thanks to Hadin Azman's first half equaliser, after Noarollah Amiri opened the scoring with a stupendous shot from outside the box.
Malaysia head coach Ong Kim Swee kept the performers in the Singapore draw last Friday; Syazwan Zainon and Shahrom Kalam and call-up returnee Norshahrul Idlan Talaha. However last Friday's man of the match; goalkeeper Khairulazhan Khalid was benched in favour of number one Khairul Fahmi Che Mat, who had not been taken to Singapore due to injuries. Kim Swee fielded five defenders in his side, perhaps expecting Afghanistan to pour forward, and that somehow necessitated the return of much-criticised JDT II defender Fadhli Shas in the lineup. Veteran forward and captain Amri Yahyah too was benched at the start. The much-touted foreign-born JDT II forward Darren Lok, who got his first cap against Singapore, was not even on the bench, as were youngster Safawi Rashid, while defenders Azrif Nasrulhaq and Khairul Helmi Johari were out injured.
Afghanistan head coach Petar Segrt fielded only three defenders at the start, fielding an extra man in his midfield, which Pahang FC player Faysal Shayesteh is a member of. Zubayr Amiri and Noor Zadran were entrusted with the goal-scoring duty.
The visitors dominated play from the get go, and could have gone in front in the ninth minute through Shayesteh's try. He dummied left and right in the Malaysia box, but his shot was expertly stopped by an onrushing Fahmi.
Syazwan's contribution to the Tigers only lasted until the 19th minute, when he had to be taken off for an injury, and replaced by Hadin Azman. His club Kedah must be looking at that with grave concern, considering they have their second leg Malaysia Cup semi-final match this Saturday.
The first goal came in the 21st minute, when a poorly-defended Afghanistan corner kick resulted in the ball falling into the path of midfielder Noarollah Amiri, who expertly curled it into the top far corner, from the edge of the Malaysia penalty box.
The home side pushed up more often following the goal, but everytime they did that they opened themselves up to Afghanistan's counterattacks.
Malaysia could have equalised in the 32nd minute, but Shahrul Saad's header off a freekick from the right was a little too high.
Their confidence grew after the try, and managed to convert the possession into tries.
Finally just before the halftime whistle, the hosts found the equaliser. A cross from the right by Matthew Davies was met by substitute Hadin's header at the far post, and the ball went in. It was the Felda United winger's first goal in a Malaysia shirt, in what was only his second appearance.
At the start of the second half, Kim Swee took off for Zaquan Adha for Fazrul Hazli, and his side played even more convincingly after that.
Around the hour mark, the hosts introduced another attacker into the fray, Hazwan Bakri for Fakri Saarani, who had been quiet throughout the game.
Kim Swee did what he had told he would do in the match, and that is to give playing time to most of the players he called up. On came PDRM's Fakhrul Aiman Sidid and Melaka United's Ahmad Khuzaimi Piee.
In the 78th minute, Malaysia midfielder Baddrol Bakhtiar got a pop at the Afghanistan goal from the penalty box, but his weak shot was easily kept out by Afghanistan goalkeeper Ovays Azizi, who never took his eyes off the ball.
No more goals came until the whistle was blown, even with the match heating up due to the flying tackles, and it finished 1-1, the home side's second draw in five days.
Malaysia : Fahmi (GK), Davies, Fadhli (Ronny 82'), Shahrom, Shahrul, Nazirul (Khuzaimi 67'), Fazrul (Zaquan 46'), Fakri (Hazwan 62'), Syazwan (Hadin 19'), Baddrol (C), Norshahrul (Fakhrul 73').
Afghanistan : Azizi (GK), Amin, Saighani, Jamali, Hatifie, Alikhil, Taher, Noarollah Amiri (Popalzay 68'), Shayesteh (C), Zadran (Ahmad Del 90+1') , Zubayr Amiri (Hushmand 90+1').