AFF U18: Harith’s winner in extra time gives Malaysia place in final

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Malaysia denied Indonesia what would have been a fabulous Independence Day Celebrations today when they edged the latter 4-3 after extra time in the semifinals of the AFF U18 Next Media Cup 2019 that was played this evening at the Binh Duong Stadium.

With the score tied 3-3 at the end of a pulsating 90 minutes, a header from Harith Haikal Adam Afkar in the 99th minute gave Malaysia their place in the final in two days at the Thong Nhat Stadium.

“The fighting spirit of the players were unbelievable. We knew that it was not going to be easy but the players never gave up,” said Malaysian head coach Brad Maloney.

“The team came through the Group of Death and they showed their quality again today.”

The heavy downpour all through yesterday and much of today may have affected the quality of the pitch, but the quality of the match was beyond reproach between these two traditional rivals.

Indonesia were eager to give their huge followers back home a fitting present for their 74th Independence Day celebrations, but it is not to be with the usually reliable Amiruddin Bagus Alfikri a shade off colour.

Two missed chances later allowed Malaysia to prise open the Indonesian defence with the lead in the 19th minute when Mohd Aiman Alif Alfizul flicked the ball in after Muhammad Fakrul Naszari’s freekick had come off the wall.

Unperturbed Indonesia pushed forward and as the Malaysians played it defensive, it would return to haunt them just before the break when Bagus turned provider for Beckham Nugraha to finish from close.

The match picked up the pace well into the second half with Malaysia once again putting their noses in front in the 54th minute, with Lukman Halim Shamsudin’s stinger from somee 25metres.

As Malaysia once again sat back to protect their precious lead, Indonesia replied with two quick goals in a two-minute blitz for them to take a 3-2 advantage going into the final stretch.

The first was a superb run down the left from Muhammad Fajar Rachman in the 80th minute as he slipped past the oncoming Malaysian custodian Sikh Izan Sikh Azman while two minutes later, a quick counter allowed Bayu Fikri to ground in Indonesia’ first lead of the game

But while the several hundred fans were in a celebratory mood considering the time left on the clock, a mistake from defender Alfeandra Dewangga Santosa in the 84th minute gave the Malaysians a penalty that Harith Haikal did not miss as it forced the game into extra time.

With Bagus still struggling for a breakthrough as he hit the side netting for the umpteenth time, the Malaysians took the initiative to carve out what would turned out to be the winner in the 99th minute of play with Harith Haikal heading in the freekick from the right of the Indonesian box.

“It was an evenly contested game but the players need to learn to be patient. We dominated the game at one time and even took the lead,” said Indonesia head coach Fakhri Hussaini. “But this is football. We played well in the group but we are not robots, we cannot expect the same outcome all of the time.”

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