Hosts Malaysia marched on to the final after they defeated bitter rivals Indonesia 1-0 in the SEA Games men's football semi-finals, at the Shah Alam Stadium on Saturday. Rising star Thanabalan Nadarajah was again the Young Tigers' hero, scoring the only goal of the match against a defensive Garudas with three minutes remaining on the clock, off a corner kick.
Malaysia head coach Datuk Ong Kim Swee made no surprise with his starting pick; opting for goalkeeper Haziq Nadzli, defenders Adam Nor Azlin and Matthew Davies, midfielder Azam Azih, and forwards Safawi Rasid and Thanabalan.
Indonesia boss Luis Milla Aspas picked goalkeeper Satria Tama Hardiyanto, defenders Putu Gede, Rezaldi Hehanusa, midfielders Evan Dimas and Yabes Roni Malaifani, as well as forward Ezra Harm.
The hosts almost took the lead as early as the sixth minute, following Safawi's trademark dribble down the left. His short cross found Thanabalan, but the latter's header only crossed in front of the goalmouth. He put away the rebound, but was adjudged to have done so from an offside position.
Six minutes later Davies broke through down the right, but his cross failed to find any of his teammates in the penalty box.
Ong was forced to make his first change as early as the 25th minute. Kumaahran Sathasivam, who had been a doubt before the match was on the receiving end of a reckless challenge by Ricky Fajrin, and had to be replaced by Jafri Firdaus Chew. Mere minutes later, Azam was fouled by Febri Hariyadi, but still referee WK Lakmal Weerakkody kept his card.
Just before the half hour mark, Malaysia again came close to scoring through two corner kicks, but goalkeeper Satria was in his element to deny their arch rivals.
Despite the advantage had by the hosts, Indonesia were able to hit back with counter-attacks. Long balls to the back of the Malaysian backline were particularly effective, and the Garuda Muda were only disappointed by their finishing.
The first half ended 0-0, with Malaysia already showing signs of frustration with their inability to translate their chances into goals.
Malaysia again started the second half with the lion's share of the possession, but Indonesia were comfortable sitting down and absorbing the onslaught.
In the 64th minute, following a counter attacking move down the left touchline, Evan found himself with the ball inside the Malaysia box. But his shot was poor, ending on the wrong side of the near post.
But it was just a matter of time, with Malaysia finally finding the back of the net three minutes from the end of fulltime. A corner kick from the left by Azam was sweetly headed into the net by who else other than Thanabalan. It was his fourth goal in the tournament, equalling the tallies of Myanmar's Aung Thu and Vietnam's Nguyễn Công Phượng.
Afterwards it was just a matter of running down the clock, and the hosts have set a final match date with defending champions Thailand this Tuesday.
Coincidentally, in the other semi-final match earlier in the day at the Selayang Stadium, Thailand also left it late to defeat Myanmar 1-0, thanks to Chenrop Samphaodi.
Malaysia: Haziq (GK), Davies, Adib (C), Adam, Syazwan, Irfan, Syamer, Azam, Safawi (Syafiq 90+'), Thanabalan (Syahmi 90+'), Kumaahran (Jafri 25').
Indonesia: Satria (GK), Putu, Andy, Ricky, Rezaldi, Septian (Saddil 60'), Yabes, Hanif (Gavin 90'), Febri, Evan (C), Ezra (Osvaldo 71').