Kuala Lumpur, Dec 7 — Malaysia proved pundits right as they demolished Cambodia 3-1 in their opening Group B match of the 2020 ASEAN Football Federation AFF Cup at Bishan Stadium, Singapore.
The Harimau Malaya squad dominated the match and earned the full three points as they fended off spirited counterattacks by Cambodia.
Malaysia, ranked 154th in the world, nearly took an early lead when Syafiq Ahmad headed in a freekick by Safawi Rasid in the second minute only to see it pass inches above the crossbar.
National winger Safawi then sent a blistering kick from 18 meters out directly to the right corner of the goalpost but Cambodian keeper Keo Soksela managed a save in the seventh minute.
Tan Cheng Hoe’s charges persisted and managed to finally score in the 23rd minute when Safawi converted a penalty kick, sending Keo in the opposite direction as he tucked the ball into the right side of the goal.
Referee Shukri Hussain Alhunfush had awarded Malaysia the penalty after Cambodian Ken Chansopheak fouled Muhammad Akhyar Abdul Rashid in the penalty box, earning himself a yellow card in the process.
The Angkor Warriors, under the tutelage of former Japanese footballer Ryu Hirose, were determined to equalize and mounted repeated counterattacks but were held back by Malaysia’s defense, with veteran keeper Khairul Fahmi Che Mat in fine form as he staved off all attempts in the first half.
Malaysia extended their lead in the second half through Muhammad Akhyar, who received a beautiful long pass from Syafiq and outwitted two Cambodian defenders before slotting the ball into the back of the net in the 60th minute.
The national squad then put the match beyond reach when substitute M. Kogileswaran Raj scored off a short cross by Luqman Hakim Shamsudin in the 79th minute.
Cambodia, currently ranked 170th in the world, managed to reply through a penalty by Sath Rosib in the final 90th minute.
The penalty was awarded after Khairul Fahmi was officially cautioned for kicking Sath while trying to catch a lob shot in the penalty area.
Malaysia’s win means that the 2010 champions managed to retain their undefeated record against Cambodia in the AFF Cup, having emerged victorious in all three of their meetings in the competition since 2000.
It was also a well-earned victory for the squad, as they had to play without goalkeeper Khairulazhan Khalid and midfielder Faisal Halim who are undergoing quarantine after being confirmed COVID-19 positive last Friday. It also means that Malaysia has not lost any points leading up to their two final tough group matches.
The Harimau Malaya squad will meet Laos on Dec 9, before taking on Vietnam (Dec 12) and Indonesia in their final match on Dec 19, with the top two teams in the group advancing to the quarter-finals.
Meanwhile, in another Group B match tonight, Vietnam kicked off the defense of their title with a 2-0 win over Laos.
Striker Nguyen Cong Phuong put Vietnam in the lead with a 26th-minute goal before winger Phan Van Duc doubled their lead with a sharp header in the 55th minute.
The AFF Cup’s opening day ends with Malaysia on top of Group B on goal difference, with Vietnam tied on points in second place.