BY ZULHILMI ZAINAL Follow on Twitter
Dato' Ong Kim Swee's Malaysia U22 laboured to a win over minnows Brunei in their Group A 2017 SEA Games match on Monday. Safawi Rasid gave the hosts an early lead in the fourth minute, but Zulkhairy Hady Razali equalised for Brunei in the 12th minute. Despite controlling possession, it took until the 60th minute for the Young Tigers to restore the lead through defender Adam Nor Azlin's header.
Many would be forgiven for thinking that the group opener would be a walkover for the hosts, when it did not take long for them to take the lead in the match. In the fourth minute, two of the men who missed the AFC U23 Championship qualifiers combined to open the scoring. Davies squared the ball early from the right, which Safawi buried with a thumping volley from inside the box.
But the visitors responded not long after, finding the equaliser in the 12th minute. A long pass found Zulkhairy who beat the Malaysian defence line's offside trap who were straying too high, and the striker slotted the ball past the onrushing goalkeeper Ifwat Akmal Che Kassim.
Emboldened by the equaliser, Kwong Oh Son's men pressed the hosts and got a bit more of the possession, but were hampered by their own failure to make threatening deliveries in the final third.
In the 19th minute Safawi and Davies combined well from an almost similar situation again to nearly give Malaysia the lead, but the winger's header ended over the bar.
The Young Tigers soon restored their dominance in possession, but not their lead, missing a number of golden chances. One minute from the halftime whistle, a freekick by Safawi clattered against the crossbar, bounced up and down still in play with goalkeeper Haimie Anak Nyaring sprawled on the floor and two Malaysian forwards awaiting for the ball to drop. However Haimie heroically leapt up just in time to tip the ball over the bar. The first half ended 1-1, a scoreline that made many of the home fans nervous at halftime.
In the second half, the Tigers' listless playing continued and it took them until the 60th minute to finally find the lead again. A corner from their right hand side by goalscorer Safawi was headed in by Adam, and the 8,000 strong home fans breathed a sigh of relief.
In the 71st minute Safawi strung together a number of solo moves to take the ball into the Brunei penalty box, but was seemingly fouled by a defender. Instead of a penalty, the JDT man was booked by referee Nagvenkar Tejas for simulation.
The hosts continued threatening Brunei's defence, but their poor chemistry and finishing meant the 2-1 scoreline remained at the final whistle.
A win is a win, but the way Ong's men played must have sparked concern over his men's chances of reaching the final match.
Malaysia U22: Ifwat (GK), Adam, Adib (C), Davies, Irfan, Syazwan, Azam, Danial (Syamer 67'), Safawi (Syahmi 79'), Jafri (Kumaahran 63'), Syafiq.
Brunei U22: Haimie (GK), Suhaimi, Haziq, Awg Mohd Aman, Akif (Ak Md Faezuddin 58'), Asnawi (Syakir 74'), Faiq (C), Azim, Ak Yura, Shafie, Zulkhairy (Ak Mohd Alimuddin 70').