Harimau Muda go out with a whimper to Vietnam in semis

KUALA LUMPUR: The national Under-23 football team’s hopes of making the final of the Asean Football Federation (AFF) Under-23 Championship were dashed after they fell 4-1 to defending champions Vietnam at the Rayong Provincial Stadium in Thailand today.

Vietnam virtually ended Malaysia’s dream with three well-taken first-half goals, courtesy of Dinh Xuan Tien (eighth minute and 44th minute) and Nguyen Quoc Viet (32nd minute).

Although coach E. Elavarasan’s men managed to get one back through Alif Ikmalrizal Anuar in the 49th minute, Nguyen Hong Phuc wrapped up the rout with goal number four in the 85th minute.

Although both teams began well, Vietnamese midfielder Xuan Tien found himself unmarked in the Malaysian box in the eighth minute to cooly slot home from close range after receiving a cross from the right from Nguyen Minh Quang.

Buoyed, Vietnam doubled their lead in the 32nd minute when midfield dynamo Nguyen Quoc Viet let fly a stinger from outside the box.

Vietnam were not done yet as Xuan Tien got his second – and his team’s third – when he applied the finishing touch to a cross from the left from Khuat Van Khang just a minute before the break.

Elavarasan then made three substitutions in the second half, bringing on striker Fergus Tierney to replace Harith Akif Mohd Shahar and the move paid off as Alif Ikmalrizal headed home a cross from the right by Muhammad Aliff Izwan Yuslan just four minutes after the break.

The goal proved to be mere consolation as Vietnam sealed the rout with an 85th-minute goal through defender Nguyen Hong Phuc, who latched onto a cross from substitute Bui Vi Hao to score.

Vietnam will take on either home team Thailand or Indonesia, who meet in the other semi-final tonight, in the final.

The Harimau Muda, meanwhile, will slog it out in the third-fourth placing match on Saturday (Aug 26).

Earlier, the Harimau Muda advanced to the semi-finals after topping Group B while Vietnam were Group C winners.

The national team began their group campaign by edging Indonesia 2-1 on Friday (Aug 18) before downing Timor Leste 3-1 on Tuesday (Aug 22).

Malaysia have never qualified for the final of the AFF Under-23 tournament, with their best-ever achievement being a fourth placing in the inaugural edition in 2005 in Thailand.

Speaking at the post-match press conference, Elavarasan admitted that his Harimau Muda players made a lot of errors in the defensive third of the field and that opened up space for Vietnam to score three goals in the first half.

The 61-year-old coach also dismissed claims of fatigue among his players, who last played on Tuesday, as the main factor behind their tame defeat by Vietnam.

“I cannot say that was an issue because Vietnam (won 1-0 against Philippines) also played on the same day as us,” he said.

The former Sarawak United coach, however, was glad to see that his team gain experience from playing in a high-level competition in Thailand, saying that was something most of his players lacked. –Bernama