For the second AFF Suzuki Cup running, Malaysia saw off the challenge of a spirited Cambodia to start their campaign on the right foot. It was the evergreen Norshahrul who provided the finishing touch to give Malaysia all three points at the Olympic Stadium.
It was not a vintage Malaysia performance by any stretch of the imagination but moments of actual attacking quality came through for Tan Cheng Hoe's team as they at least achieved the minimum requirement of starting with a win.
Just like it was in the friendly match two months ago, Cambodia were the ones putting the early pressure on as they tried find a quick goal to take advantage of Malaysia’s unsettled nerves.
Within just three minutes, Sos Suhana scuffed a shot from close range after Brak Thiva broke through the offside trap and Khairul Fahmi was a relieved man to collect the ball.
Malaysia continued to struggle to adapt to the bumps of the artificial pitch with the players failing to keep the ball for more than a few passes. When Malaysian nerves finally settled after 15 minutes, Zaquan Adha had a chance to put the away side ahead after Hong Pheng misjudged the flight of the ball but rushed his shot.
Cheng Hoe made the decision to switch his wingers around with Safawi Rasid moving to the right hand side and Mohamadou Sumareh going to the let after 20 minutes played. That switch seemed to work as immediately Safawi started to look more threatening but saw his 26th minute curling shot only hit the post and bounced back out into play.
The Johor Darul Ta’zim forward would make amends just four minutes later as Malaysia scored their first goal of the 2018 edition. Safawi’s reverse pass inside the box freed Zaquan, who in turn found a lurking Norshahrul Idlan Talaha to head past beyond Um Vichet.
Late on in the first half, Cambodia had the opportunity to level the score before half time when the speedy Chan Vathanaka ran through but was denied by the on-rushing Khairul Fahmi.
The start of the second half saw the inclusion of Terengganu FC’s Thierry Chanta Bin into the play as he replaced the anonymous Keo Sokpheng. While that substitution to sit Thierry at the base of the midfield instead of Kouch Sokumpheak seemed to help stabilise Cambodia's defence, it did not improve their attacking options.
In response, Cheng Hoe threw on Shahrel Fikri and Hazwan Bakri for Norshahrul and Zaquan respectively, to try to give energy back to the Malaysia attack that has not been able to take advantage of the momentum gained from taking a half time lead.
To their credit, Cambodia did try to force the issue but Malaysia's defence really step up their game in the second half with Aidil Zafuan and Shahrul Saad combining well to repeatedly catch Cambodian players in offside positions.
In the end, the solitary goal in the first half was enough to separate the two teams in the opening match of Group A and sent Malaysia into a confident mood going into the second group match on Monday against Laos.
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