There was drama aplenty – four goals, two fightbacks, a red card and a penalty – at the Rajamangala Stadium in Bangkok tonight as Malaysia qualified for the AFF Suzuki Cup final.
Malaysia held reigning champions Thailand 2-2 in the semi-final, return-leg clash to qualify on the away goal rule.
Both teams also drew in the first leg 0-0 at the National Stadium, Bukit Jalil on Dec 1.
An own goal by Muhammad Irfan Zakaria (20th minute) gave the hosts a 1-0 lead but Malaysia hit back through Muhammad Syahmi Safari eight minutes later.
Pansa Hemviboon restored Thailand’s lead in the 63rd minute before Norshahrul Idlan Talaha stunned the more than 45,000 Thai fans with the equaliser in the 70th minute.
It was sweet revenge indeed for Harimau Malaya because the last time Malaysia made the final, in 2014, they lost 3-4 to the Thais.
Tonight’s match began as expected, with the Thais, buoyed by their supporters, launching waves of attacks on the Malaysian goalmouth.
Still, the Thais needed a bit of luck to break the deadlock when substitute Muhammad Irfan scored an own goal when trying to keep out a Thitipan Puangchan header in the 20th minute.
Malaysia did not let the goal break their spirits as they struck back to make it 1-1 with a fine effort from outside the box by Muhammad Syahmi in the 28th minute.
It was end-to-end stuff as both teams gave it their all, but the score stayed at 1-1 at the break.
It didn’t take long for Thailand to sneak ahead when play resumed, with Pansa heading home in the 63rd minute and the delirious Thai fans celebrated on the stands.
But their joy lasted just seven minutes as Norshahrul scored a peach of a goal when he stopped the ball, swirled and shot from inside the box past the Thai goalkeeper for Malaysia’s second equaliser.
Then came disaster.
Muhammad Syahmi went from hero to zero when he stopped a Thai player’s header with his hand, leaving referee Adham Mohammad Tumah Makhadmeh of Jordan no choice but to flash him the red card.
Then came salvation.
Adisak Kraison stepped up to take the spot kick with the hopes of millions of Thais in his hand. And he fluffed the script as he skied his shot.
And it stayed 2-2 until the final whistle.
Malaysia will meet the winners of the other semi-final between Vietnam and the Philippines.
The two teams will meet in the return-leg tie in Hanoi tomorrow after Vietnam defeated the Philippines 2-1 in the first-leg clash at the Panaad Park and Sports Complex, Bacolod City, Manila on Dec 2.
The first leg of the final will be on Dec 11 and the return leg on Dec 15.