HANOI: Malaysia’s dream of winning the AFF Suzuki Cup for the second time was shattered after they were beaten 1-0 by Vietnam at the MyDinh Stadium in the second-leg final.
The defeat means Tan Cheng Hoe’s side lost 3-2 on aggregate as Vietnam deservedly won their second AFF Suzuki Cup after 10 years.
Nguyen Anh Duc’s solitary goal gave them victory as their fans in Hanoi broke into wild celebration.
Malaysia coach Cheng Hoe fielded his best line-up after Muhammad Syahmi Safari, Mohamad Aidil Zafuan Abdul Radzak and Muhammad Syazwan Andik Mohd Ishak returned to the team from injuries and suspension.
Syazwan’s return was timely as Malaysia needed a regular leftback to track the ever- dangerous Nguyen Quang Hai on the right.
But it all ended in vain for the Harimau Malaya.
Vietnam got off to a blistering start as they made use of their quick players by launching through long balls to the attacking trio Anh Duc, Phan Van Duc and Quang Hai.
They were rewarded after only five minutes when Quang Hai’s cross found 33-year-old striker Anh Duc who thumped a shot past goalkeeper Farizal Marlias to the delight of the 40,000 Vietnamese supporters.
There was suspicion of offside but referee Alireza Faghani ruled the goal onside. That woke up the Harimau Malaya as they quickly initiated attacks and could have found the equaliser in the 10th minute when a cross from Syahmi found Mahamadou Sumareh but the winger’s audacious backheel went wide.
In the 44th minute, rightback Muhammad Syahmi Safari could have broken the deadlock if it was not for Dang Van Lam’s heroics, who saved the 20-year-old’s well-placed shot.
However, Vietnam were the far better side as their pace caught Malaysia’s defence off-guard several times.
Malaysia also ran out of ideas as Vietnam’s stoic defending, led by captain Que Ngoc Hai, and the fervent crowd at the MyDinh Stadium affected the players’ performance.
In the second half, Vietnam continued their relentless attacks but Malaysia got the better chance first in the 49th minute, when a corner from Muhammad Safawi Rasid found Sumareh, whose header was saved off the goal line by the impressive Van Lam.
Malaysia got another chance in the 53rd minute when Safawi was fouled outside of the box and his ensuing free-kick was saved by Van Lam.
In the 73rd minute, Malaysia brought on Muhammad Syafiq Ahmad for centreback Aidil Zafuan as they looked to go into full attacking mode by switching to 3-4-3 for the next 17 minutes in order to get the elusive goal.
Bringing on strikers Muhammad Akhyar Rashid and Muhammad Shahrel Mohd Fikri was the last throw of the dice from Cheng Hoe as Malaysia huffed and puffed to pull off an upset but it wasn’t meant to be for the Malaysians.
Malaysia will now have to wait for two more years to win their second AFF Suzuki Cup, which they last won in 2010.
Nobody fancied the team to reach the final but Cheng Hoe’s side defied the odds and fought valiantly throughout the tournament – and they can return home with their heads held high.