By SHAMSHIL FITRI
SHAH ALAM: Malaysia huffed and puffed their way to a much-needed victory in the Asian Cup qualifiers – overcoming Yemen 2-1 in their Group D match at the Shah Alam Stadium.
Yemen stunned the hosts when they took the lead after just 12 minutes through Aiman Saleh Al-Hagri. Winger Azammuddin Akil equalised for Malaysia in the 27th minute before supersub Khyril Muhymeen Zambri netted the winner 10 minutes from time.
Needing a win to keep their Asian Cup hopes alive, Malaysia pressed early down the flanks with Azammuddin and Wan Zack Haikal Wan Nor as Yemen relied on counter attacks.
But the duo found the packed five-man Yemen midfield tough to get past.
Yemen got their break in the 12th minute after a slip by rightback Mahalli Jasuli. Nippy Yemeni striker Aiman Saleh Al-Hagri managed to collect the ball, which deflected off Mahalli, and lobbed it over goalkeeper Khairul Fahmi Che Mat.
The goal stunned Malaysia into action and coach Datuk K. Rajagopal’s men began to press forward in search of the equaliser.
A tactical change by Rajagopal – switching Azzamuddin to the left and moving Wan Zack to the right – paid dividends when Azzamuddin slotted in the equaliser after receiving a pass from Mahalli in the 27th minute.
Mahalli continued to work hard with his penetrating runs down the right flank but strikers Norshahrul Idlan Talaha and Amri Yahyah failed to convert the chances.
A more aggressive Yemen pushed up Khaled Hasan from midfield to partner Aiman in attack as they went searching for the winner.
Malaysia, meanwhile, looked to have more confidence on the ball as they began stringing some passes together from midfield.
In the 58th minute, Norshahrul had a sublime chance to end his dry run since scoring against Thailand in the AFF Suzuki Cup semi-final last year.
But Norshahrul, who was unmarked in the box, failed to hit the target after receiving a cross from the right.
Yemen had their moments too, like in the 74th minute when they quickly turned defence into attack as Aiman picked up the ball from midfield with a good solo run towards Khairul Fahmi’s goalmouth. Luckily for Malaysia, the Kelantan goalkeeper denied Yemen with a fine save.
After introducing Khyril for Amri in the 71st minute, Rajagopal made another substitution by replacing K. Gurusamy with Mohd Badhri Radzi eight minutes later.
Khyril proved to be the game-changer for Malaysia, as he headed in the winning goal in the 80th minute off a perfectly-weighted cross from Norshahrul.
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