Hosts Malaysia defeated Myanmar 3-1 at the Shah Alam Stadium on Monday to lead Group A, thanks to Thanabalan Nadarajah's brace and Safawi Rasid's goal. Myanmar's goal was scored by Than Paing near the end of the match.
Malaysia went into the match needing to defeat Myanmar in order to give them a chance to qualify to the semis as Group A winners, while a defeat or draw means Myanmar, who have qualified, are likely to finish as group leaders.
Head coach of Malaysia Datuk Ong Kim Swee started with their goalscorers against Singapore; Thanabalan Nadarajah and Nor Azam Azih, as well as Safawi Rasid. Matthew Davies started the match in right back, while goalkeeper Haziq Nadzli kept his starting spot from the previous match.
Myanmar boss Gerd Zeise answered the mystery of whether he would field his first eleven against the hosts, as his side have already qualified, by fielding his top-scorer Aung Thu, goalkeeper Sann Sat Naing, captain Si Thu Aung as well as defender Nan Wai Min.
Just like in their two first group matches, the Young Tigers started brightly by dominating possession, and keeping the ball in the opponents' half of the pitch for most of the time. But just like earlier, the midfield could not connect well with the forwards.
It was Myanmar who nearly drew first blood. In the 18th minute, an unmarked Thiha Htet Aung connected with a corner kick delievery with his head, but his attempt went slightly wide.
When Kumaahran was fouled just outside of the Myanmar box and a freekick was given, Irfan Zakaria came close to giving the hosts the lead. He aimed for the far bottom corner, but Sat Naing managed to save it with a magnificent tip-of-the-fingers save.
However the pressure soon took its toll on Zeise 's charges, with the Tigers finding the back of the net in the 33rd minute. A shot by Safawi glanced off Davies into the path of Thanabalan, and the Felcra FC man barely need to move to prod the ball in.
They did not take long to double their lead. In the 35th minute Kumaahran broke through down the right, and sent in a low cross into the penalty area. Safawi was there and headed in the delievery unchallenged to make it 2-0.
The scoreline remained at halftime, and the home fans were already celebrating their lead.
Malaysia fans celebrating their 2-0 lead at halftime. Photo by Zulhilmi Zainal.
At the hour mark, the hosts nearly made it three, but Sat Naing produced a fine double save.
In the 67th minute, Ong made his side's second substitution, bringing on 18-year old Akhyar Rashid for goalscorer Safawi.
With nine minutes remaining on the clock, Malaysia hit Myanmar with the third while the White Angels were pushing for their first goal. Substitute Jafri Chew broke on the left, and spotting Thanabalan lunging into the box, sent in an early cross. Thanabalan did not miss from six yards out with a bullet of a header.
But Myanmar got their consolation goal nonetheless, when captain Adib Zainuddin botched a back pass. It was stolen by Aung Thu, who squared it a short distance from the left to Than Paing, and the forward slotted the ball past Haziq's outstretched arms.
The match ended 3-1 to the hosts, who now only need a draw against Laos on Wednesday to end the group stage as Group A winners. Myanmar who share nine points with them have played all four of their group matches.
Photo by Twitter @KL2017
Malaysia : Haziq (GK), Davies, Adib (C), Adam, Syazwan, Irfan, Azam (Danial 56'), Syamer, Thanabalan, Kumaahran (Jafri 79'), Safawi (Akhyar 67').
Myanmar : Sat Naing (GK), Wai Min, Htike Aung, Htet Aung, Kyaw, Yint Tun (Shwe Ko 68'), Thu Aung (C), Mg Lwin, Naing Oo, Kaung Mann (Than Paing 59'), Aung Thu