Striker rises to the occasion to send Malaysia into final

A THUNDERING header by N. Thanabalan was all it needed for Malaysia to set up a repeat of the 2001 Kuala Lumpur SEA Games final between Malaysia and Thai­land at the National Stadium in Bukit Jalil on Tuesday.

Thanabalan rose majestically to nod home an 85th-minute goal to help Malaysia beat Indonesia 1-0 in the semi-finals at the Shah Alam Stadium last night.

National Under-23 team coach Datuk Ong Kim Swee fielded the same line-up who beat Myanmar 3-1 in their Group A match on Wednesday.

The team started well and showed plenty of attacking flair to pin down the Indonesian backline, with strikers Safawi Rasid, Thana­balan and S. Kumaahran being the chief tormentors in the opening 15 minutes.

The Indonesians clearly missed the influence of skipper Hamsamu Yama, midfielder Muhammad Har­gianto and striker Marinus Wane­war, who were suspended for the match after picking up two yellow cards in the group stage.

However, disaster struck for Kim Swee’s men when Kumaahran injured his knee in the 25th minute following a cynical tackle.

He had to be replaced by Jafri Firdaus Chew.

We’re ahead: Malaysia’s N. Thanabalan (centre) celebrating after scoring with a header in the semi-final against Indonesia at the Shah Alam Stadium last night. Malaysia won 1-0.
We’re ahead: Malaysia’s N. Thanabalan (centre) celebrating after scoring with a header in the semi-final against Indonesia at the Shah Alam Stadium last night. Malaysia won 1-0.

The momentum then shifted to Indonesia, who looked more dangerous with their attacking moves.

But Malaysia’s three-man backline of Adam Nor Azlin, Mohd Adib Zainuddin and Irfan Zakaria held firm to end the first half 0-0.

It was the same story in the second half, with Malaysia starting aggressively but failing to inflict damage despite having more possession.

Indonesia defended well in their half and began to launch counter-attacks.

One of Indonesia’s attacking moves almost yielded result but stand-in skipper Evan Dimas’ shot from inside the box went wide off the mark in the 62nd minute.

Malaysia, backed by more than 80,000 supporters, turned up the heat in the last 10 minutes with a barrage of attacks.

And of the those attacks, they earned a corner, which saw Thana­balan jumped high to nod the ball into the bottom corner of the net and send the Malaysian fans into delirious raptures.

However, Kim Swee is not ready to celebrate yet, despite watching his men beating Indonesia 1-0 to qualify for the final.

As Malaysia had to rely on a late Thanabalan goal to sink the Indonesians in and set up a title showdown against Thailand on Tuesday, he said that “I need three more days to be fully happy”.

He was obviously referring to the final, which will be held at the National Stadium in Bukit Jalil.

“We may have reached the final, but our campaign is not over yet.

“We need to wait three more days to be truly happy,” said Kim Swee at the post match press conference.

“We will get back to training and be ready for the final.

“The boys rose to the occasion today and showed their character. We’ll do the same in the final.”

Indonesia coach Louis Milla felt that both teams had a 50-50 chance of winning last night but “Malaysia were lucky to nick the winner in the dying minutes”.

“My boys played well.

“We gave Malaysia a good fight until the final whistle but we just couldn’t get the goals,” said the former Real Madrid and Barcelona player.

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