BANGKOK: Lady Luck was certainly smiling on Malaysia as the underdogs knocked out defending champions Thailand from the AFF Suzuki Cup semi-finals.
Ten-man Harimau Malaya advanced to the final on away goal rule after holding the War Elephants to a 2-2 draw in a pulsating affair at the Rajamangala Stadium yesterday.
In the first leg, both teams played to a goalless draw at the National Stadium in Bukit Jalil last Saturday.
The Thais looked to have sealed their berth in the final in the last minute after they were awarded a spot-kick.
Syahmi Safari was penalised for a handball and was sent off in the 94th minute but Thailand’s talismanic hitman Adisak Kraison blazed his attempt high.
Earlier, Malaysia twice held Thailand with goals from Syahmi (28th minute) and veteran striker Norshahrul Idlan Talaha (71st) after the hosts took the lead through Irfan Zakaria’s own goal (21st) and Pansa Hemviboon (63rd).
National coach Tan Cheng Hoe made one change to his line-up with leftback Nazirul Naim Che Hashim making his first start in place of the injured Syazwan Andik Ishak.
Thai coach Milovan Rajevac brought in defender Phillip Roller and midfielder Mongkol Thosakrai for Nurul Sriyankem and Mika Chunonsee.
The Thais were the dominant side in the opening 15 minutes buoyed by their capacity home crowd at the Rajamangala Stadium.
Malaysia’s defence managed to absorb the Thais onslaught well until the 18th minute after seasoned centreback Mohd Aidil Zafuan Abdul Razak picked up an injury and had to be replaced with Irfan.
Irfan had a debut to forget as he scored an own goal three minutes after his introduction.
A sloppy clearance by goalkeeper Mohd Farizal Marlias during a goalmouth melee hit Irfan only for the ball to go into the net.
Thailand’s lead only lasted seven minutes after Malaysia scored the equaliser against the run of play after Syahmi rifled in a shot from outside the box in the 28th minute.
In the second half, Rajevac took out midfielder Thanabon Kesarat for Pokklaw Anan to add more bite to the attack.
Thailand played a high pressing game after the break and they broke the deadlock in the 63rd minute.
Pansa put the War Elephants in front after heading from close range off a free-kick.
Cheng Hoe brought in the nippy Akhyar Rashid for the tiring Safawi Rasid in the 67th minute.
The rejuvenated attack saw the plucky Harimau Malaya equalise thanks to Norshahrul’s shot from inside the box in the 71st minute.
Desperate to avoid exit, Rajevac brought in attacking minded Nurul for Phillip while Cheng Hoe replaced goalscorer Norshahrul and brought in hard tackling midfielder D. Kenny Palraj to stem the Thai’s marauding runs.
The Thais seems to have booked their berth in the final after winning the late spot-kick for handball but Adisak – the tournament’s leading scorer with eight goals – ballooned his shot. Malaysia will play either Vietnam or Philippines, who will play their second leg of the semi-final today, in the two-leg final scheduled on Dec 11 and Dec 15.