Malaysia come from behind to win AFF Suzuki Cup opener vs. Cambodia
YANGON -- Malaysia opened their 2016 AFF Suzuki Cup campaign with a come-from-behind 3-2 triumph over Cambodia, thanks to a second-half brace from captain Amri Yahyah at the Thuwunna Stadium on Sunday.
The Group B victory was much needed by the 2010 champions, who were made to labour for the three points in front of 16,000 fans on a hot afternoon in Yangon.
Malaysia headed into the match with a 10-3 win-loss record against the Cambodians, including seven consecutive victories.
Armed with that advantage, they started with intent, and Rizal Ghazali saw his cross-cum-shot saved by Cambodia goalkeeper Sou Yaty in the third minute. That early momentum, however, faded four minutes later, as the Cambodians seized a shock advantage, which left Malaysia seething.
Chan Vathanaka was clean through on goal after receiving possession on the halfway line.
The Cambodian League top scorer ignored the assistant referee who raised his flag for offside, bore down on goal before rounding Khairul Fahmi to slot home.
The Malaysians were furious, and surrounded referee Abdul Baqi Yaqoob, who overruled the call to let the goal stand.
The Omani referee, however, was vindicated by TV replays, as Chan appeared to be level with Shahrom Kalam, who was Malaysia's last man.
That goal took the sting out of the Malaysians, who then appeared lethargic, playing at almost walking pace at times.
But they were level on 37 minutes, thanks to two moments of brilliance from JDT II midfielder Irfan Fazail, and Kedah's Syazwan Zainon.
Irfan sprayed a beautiful diagonal pass for the winger, who cut in past Sok Sovan to curl home into the far corner for the equaliser.
Malaysia came to life after that, and Amri Yahyah ended the half unlucky not to be on the scoresheet after his shot just whistled past the post.
Datuk Ong's Kim Swee's men emerged after the break with the same attacking verve, and only the crossbar from Syazwan's hit denied them a second goal in the 46th minute.
That close shave woke Cambodia, who started pressing higher up the pitch.
Prak Mony Udom almost capitalised on that momentum, but his low effort drew a fine one handed save from Khairul Fahmi.
But Cambodia did not have to wait long to regain their advantage, as Chan restored their lead in the 59th minute.
The nippy forward was given time and space by Matthew Davies and Shahrul Saad, and sidestepped both defenders before drilling past Khairul Fahmi.
Malaysia needed an answer fast, which they duly got through Amri.
Ahmad Hazwan Bakri drove into the box before squaring for the captain, who made no mistake from close range in the 68th minute.
Irfan then rattled the bar before substitute Hadin Azwan missed a sitter from close range a minute after coming on.
It was left to Amri to make up for those misses with a deft finish into the bottom corner 10 minutes from time.
The Johor Darul Ta'zim veteran capped his brace with a mannequin celebration that has gone viral in the game in recent weeks.
With a crucial first-up victory, Malaysia will now prepare to face Group B favourites, Vietnam, in Yangon on Wednesday.
Malaysia: Khairul Fahmi Che Mat (GK), Matthew Davies, Shahrom Kalam, Shahrul Saad, Baddrol Bakhtiar, Ahmad Hazwan Bakri, Shahrom Kalam, Rizal Ghazali, Syazwan Zainon (Hadin Azman 76'), Amri Yahyah (C), Darren Lok (Safee Sali 72'), Irfan Fazail (S.Veenod 85')
Cambodia: Sou Yaty (GK), Soeuy Visal, Prak Mony Udom, Keo Sokpheng, Chan Vathanaka, Sos Suhana, Nub Tola, Chreng Polroth, Chhin Chhoeun, Sok Sovan, Ruos Sam Oeun (Sam Oeun Pidor 50')
Nicolas Anil is a former Malay Mail and Goal.com Malaysia editor/writer who appears on BFM Radio as a football analyst. Twitter: @nicolas_anil.