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Malaysia secured a memorable win against favorite Vietnam in the first leg of AFF Suzuki Cup 2010 semi final match in Bukit Jalil, Kuala Lumpur. The current Champion, Vietnam, failed to break down the Malaysian defense as they let in two goals to let Malaysia win 2-0 at home. The win puts Malaysia up as favorites to move on to the Final.

Nobody, I repeat, nobody would have ever thought that the game would end with such a score line. I for one, didn’t. I was sure that Malaysia would win. However, I only gave Malaysia a one goal advantage. Either 1-0 or 2-1. That was my expectation.

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Malaysia didn’t get off to a very good start. For some strange reasons, they could not get any decent passing in the first 10 minutes of the match. Defense would get the ball and just kick it out upfield, only to be collected by Vietnam. Malaysia played rather deeply in their own backyard.

Vietnam, on the other hand, enjoyed superior possession of the ball. However, they were finding it hard to penetrate the stoic Malaysian defense. All that they could muster from all the possession time they had was a couple of long distance shots at goal. These long distance attempts hardly troubled the Malaysia keeper, Khairul Fahmi Che Mat.

At half time, the score stood at 0-0. Both teams failed to break the deadlock.

In the second half, both teams pretty much continued where they left off. Malaysia continued to play deep in their own half. Vietnam kept on trying to break that solid Malaysian defense. However, in the second half, I saw that Malaysia was slowly getting their passing act together.

We kept the ball for longer periods and move it with greater purpose towards the Vietnamese goal. The boys did not solely rely on counter attacks. There were less hopeful upfield passes from defense straight to the strikers. The midfielders was actually part of the attacking game plan.

Midway through the second half, Malaysia was awarded a free kick deep in Vietnam territory. Off the freekick, Safee Sali who was marked closely by a Vietnam defender, rose and connected with a glancing header back towards goal. At first, Vietnam’s keeper seemed to have the ball covered. However, instead of palming the ball away, he tried to catch it. That proved to be a mistake. The ball bounced off his hands and continued its momentum into the Vietnam goal. Thus, Malaysia gets to celebrate.

That first goal probably shook the Vietnam players a bit. They began to lose their composure. As a result, Malaysia enjoyed more possession time and get to build up a few more advances into the Vietnam goalmouth.

Vietnam tried really hard to break down the Malaysia back four. However, no matter what they tried, our solid defensive wall did not crumble. Whenever Vietnam had the ball, we had at least six to eight man behind the ball.

With about 10 minutes to play, Malaysia got their second. This time around, Malaysian skipper, Safiq Rahim received the ball just outside the Vietnam penalty box. He managed to find for himself a few yards of space to let off a strong low drive towards goal.

That strong low drive from Safiq was parried away by the Vietnam keeper. Guess who was the quickest to the free ball? None other than Safee Sali. He reacted swifter than the other Vietnamese defenders around him. Pouncing on the rebound, Safee then drove the ball crashing into the net, right under the legs of the charging Vietnam keeper. Once again, the Malaysian team gets to celebrate.

All in all, the Malaysian team performed admirably. I would say, K.Rajagopal and the entire Malaysian team executed their game plan perfectly. What was their game plan? I would have to say that it’s to defend and absorb the Vietnam attacks. Frustrate and tire them and hit back with counter attacks.

That’s exactly what the team did to a tee. They defended in numbers. The only player who stayed topside was Safee Sali.

The ball is now in Malaysia’s hand. There is still another leg of the semi final to play. This time in Vietnam, this Saturday. Previously, K.Rajagopal claimed that we have nothing to lose. Today, with a 2 goal advantage, we have everything to lose when we play away in Vietnam.

The match this Saturday will certainly test the mental strength of the Malaysian team. The pressure is on them now. Expectations will certainly be mounting up.

Imagine, just two weeks ago, this team was greatly humbled by Indonesia with a 5-1 bashing. Today, we are just one step away from going into the Final match.

I’m dreaming of a Malaysia vs Indonesia final. Do you think it’s possible?

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