Malaysia goalkeeper Khairul Fahmi Che Mat clearing the ball during the Asian Cup Group D match against Yemen in March last year. Malaysia won that match 2-1. In the March 5, 2014, match, Malaysia won by the same score. – IZZRAFIQ ALIAS / The Star
PETALING JAYA: A 10-man Malaysia ended their Asian Cup Group D qualifying campaign on a high after edging Yemen 2-1 at the Sheikh Tahnoon Stadium in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
However, it was not enough to ensure a spot in the Finals in Australia next year, as Malaysia did not emerge the best third-placed team.
That honour went to China, who lost to Iraq 3-1 but nevertheless qualified on goal difference.
Iraq also qualified as the second-placed team in Group B.
In the Malaysia-Yemen match, winger Mohd Amri Yahyah put Malaysia ahead in the 16th minute before Mohammed Al Sarori equalised in the 59th minute but substitute Ahmad Fakri Saarani netted the winner in the 77th for the win on Wednesday.
Interim coach Datuk Ong Kim Swee's game plan was thrown into disarray after centreback Amiridzwan Taj Tajuddin brought down Yemen's Saddam Hussein in the 10th minute and was sent off as a result.
Fortunately, goalkeeper Khairul Fahmi Che Mat saved the resulting penalty kick from Wahid Al Khyat and kept Malaysia in the game.
Kim Swee was forced to bring in defender Mohd Fadhli Shas for midfielder Mohd Safiq Rahim to bolster the defence.
Five minutes later, veteran Amri was quick to head the goal in after Yemen's goalkeeper Mohammed Ibrahim Ayyash fumbled Mohd Hafiz Kamal's freekick.
Yemen, who were taking advantage of the gaping hole in Malaysia's defence, forced Kim Swee to make another early change by bringing in the versatile Fakri for striker Bobby Gonzales to add body in the middle of the park.
The substitution worked well for Malaysia as they managed to repel Yemen's attack and end the first half with the 1-0 slim lead.
Yemen came back with much more determination after the restart and grabbed the equaliser 14 minutes in the second half from Al Sarori’s effort.
Malaysia were later forced to substitute injured striker Mohd Safee Sali with midfielder Badrol Bakhtiar and push Fakri to lead the attack.
The tired Malaysians started to wilt under the Yemeni onslaught but Fakri ended up being the hero for Malaysia after the Kelantan striker kneed the ball into the goal from Nazrin Nawi's freekick in the 77th minute for the winner.
Yemen kept pressing for the equaliser but Khairul Fahmi was in his element to ensure Malaysia return with full points.