This year’s AFF Under-15 Championship final will be a showdown between neighbours Thailand and Malaysia. The Thais sealed their place in the final after a hard-fought 2-0 win over Indonesia while Malaysia battled back to outdo Vietnam 3-1 in the semi-finals held at the Institute of Physical Education Stadium here today.
Thailand’s hero tonight was midfielder Niphitphon Wongpanya who scored twice in the 52nd and 70th minutes to ensure his team kept their final date with Malaysia.
In the first semi-final showdown, although Malaysia had an early chance to get ahead, it was Vietnam that fired the opening salvo. After only nine minutes, the Vietnam bench were leaping with joy as striker Pham Van Phong worked his way into the box and nailed it.
Muhammad Nabil Qayyum Zainuddin would score the first of his two goals, once in each half, in the 14th minute before following up with another in the 49th minute. Vietnam fought on for the equaliser but striker Muhammad Aliff Izwan Yuslan made a comeback even more difficult. He blasted the third goal three minutes from the end but in the process sustained and injury and was replaced.
MALAYSIA bt VIETNAM 3-1
Both sides were eager to get the going and Malaysia had their first chance in the 3rd minute when they were awarded a freekick. Mohamad Khairil Mohd Zain stepped up to do the honours, he lined up the shot and had a crack but turned in despair as his shot blew over the bar.
A few minutes later and it would be Vietnam who were celebrating. Striker Pham Van Phong, waiting just to the left of the box, picked up a pass and raced towards goal. He cut left, and then right, to evade his marker, and slammed into the top corner.
But Vietnam’s celebrations would soon die off five minutes later. Falling back fired up the Malaysians who started to pile the pressure on their opponents. Midfielder Muhammad Adam Uwais Mohd Armi set-up Muhammad Aliff Izwan Yuslan at the top of the box but he spotted Muhammad Nabil Qayyum Zainuddin on the right. Nabil sent a low shot which keeper Nguyen Quang Truong stopped but it trickled over into goal.
Soon after the break, Malaysia were off their feet again. In the 48th minute, Muhammad Adam, from his own half, relayed the ball to Nabil, who confidently waltzed his way through a string of defenders and tap the ball past the goalkeeper.
Vietnam cranked up the pace as they search for the equaliser, and they had several close calls along the way. Their main strikes were in the 70th and 76thminutes but Can Van Quy’s header Do Van Chi’s cracker were off the mark.
With three minutes on the clock, Muhammad Izrin Ibrahim sneaked in a short pass to Aliff who slipped through two defenders and blasted through.
Malaysia coach P. Maniam was delighted and praised his players. “Within 25 days, we played nine difficult matches. In the first half we conceded a goal early, then we came back strongly and scored. In the second half, we controlled the match and the momentum and created chances which we converted. Today, it’s about the players, they gave 200 percent to score and enter the final. I give all the credit to the players, and also thank the parents, and also our president. Hopefully, we will do well in the final.”
THAILAND bt INDONESIA 2-0
The first rather serious attempt came in the 16th minute. Anucha Somonwat rushed in and first timed a cross from Niphitphon Wongpanya but the effort was saved by goalkeeper I Made Putra Kaicen. A few minutes later, Marselino Ferdinan earned a freekick and took the shot but it sailed over the crossbar.
On the half hour mark, Kasidit Kalisin sent Pornsawan Sankla dashing into the box but his weak shot was easily caught by I Made. Later, Kasidit had the fans on their feet but his header from a corner kick was inches off the mark.
The action intensified after the break especially from the Indonesian players who were in a hurry to break through and score. But then, it was the Thais who forced the game ahead and the 500-plus Thai fans finally had something to cheer when Niphitphon was on the mark in the 52nd minute.
Just before the hour, Indonesia were within inches of the opening goal but striker Wahyu Agong Drajat Mulyono’s header bounced off the crossbar. Indonesia continued to pressure and the Thais were at their best clearing the danger.
Thailand put the game beyond Indonesia in the 70th minute when Niphitphon took advantage of a defensive error by a defender to tap the ball over the goalkeeper. That goal was enough to secure Thailand’s place in the final against Malaysia on Friday.
RESULTS AND FIXTURES
Venue: Institute of Physical Education (IPE)
MALAYSIA bt VIETNAM 3-1
INDONESIA vs THAILAND
1500hrs: 3rd-4th Placing – Vietnam vs Indonesia
1800hrs: FINAL – Malaysia vs Thailand