ASC2018: Cockiness torn to shreds in Bangkok

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Nothing is won or lost till the final whistle and it was a night when Malaysia walked off the pitch with their heads held high while Thailand was left shell-shocked with an embarrassing exit from the 12th edition of the AFF Suzuki Cup.

The scene was at the Rajamangala Stadium in Bangkok where the War Elephants had made it their fortress but the hungry Harimau Malaya made a meal of their opponents with a 2-2 draw in the second leg semi-final to advance on away goals. The first leg at the National Stadium in Bukit Jalil, Kuala Lumpur ended in a scoreless stalemate.
Malaysia will long remember what transpired at the Rajamangala Stadium on a night when Tan Cheng Hoe’s bunch of fighters did not cave in even when the Thais took the lead twice.
The Thais went ahead through an own goal by Irfan Zakaria in the 20th minute before Syamir Safari plundered a gem of a goal from the corner of the penalty box eight minutes later.
The defending champions regained the lead on 63 minutes through Pansa Hemviboon – which was celebrated with mock champagne drinking by the scorer and his teammate.
Malaysia once again responded with Norshahrul Idlan Talaha knocking in the second equalizer in the 71st minute.
Thailand’s hopes of another final disappeared deep into injury when Adisak Kraisorn blasted his penalty effort over the bar after Syamir was hauled up for hands inside the box and in the process given the sack for his second yellow.  
The Harimau Malaya was not ready to be trampled by the War Elephants and neither were they intimidated by the massive home support the five-time Asean champions enjoyed. 
Small in number but the Malaysian supporters too were not to be outdone in the stands where national pride and dignity was at stake. The Ultras displayed true Malaysian spirit where the Malaysian flag took its rightful place.
The scenes were seen at the Rajamangala Stadium were patriotic on both sides. The Thais were not to be undone and they too came with their paraphernalia to drum support for their team.
Without a doubt, it was a splendid performance by the gritty Malaysians who had their fair share of flak after the 2-0 defeat to Vietnam in a Group A match played at the My Dinh Stadium in Hanoi.
Cheng Hoe and company did not allow the negatives to stand in their way and instead came back stronger to whip Myanmar 3-0 at home and advance to the last four with a second place finish behind Vietnam.
In all probabilities, Harimau Malaya could cross paths with Vietnam again – this time in the final. 
Vietnam is playing the Philippines in the second leg semi-final at My Dinh on Thursday. The 2008 champions take a 2-1 advantage over the Azkals from the first leg played at the Panaard Stadium in Bacolod City last Sunday. – BY RIZAL ABDULLAH
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