HO CHI MINH CITY: Malaysia began their quest for the SEA Games men's football gold on a flying note, crushing Cambodia 8-1 in Group B at the Thong Nhat Stadium yesterday.
After playing poorly in the opening half where they only managed a 2-0 lead, Allan Harris' men ran amok in the closing half with six more goals, including a hat-trick from top striker Akmal Rizal Ahmad Rakhli, who has just returned from injury.
Akmal found the net three times in the 49th, 51st and 79th minutes while rightwinger K. Rajan had a brace, scoring in the 68th and 75th minutes. Rightback Yosri Derma Raju, Indra Putra Mahayuddin and Juzaili Samion added a goal each.
I'm not at all surprised by the scoreline, said Harris. But I was a little disappointed with the first-half performance. I gave them some reminders during the break and they responded in the second-half which was good.
I hate giving goals away where there is always that possibility that it might come back to haunt us in the final count.
Cambodian coach Nont Pkim Son offered no excuses. We were unhappy for being the losers today but Cambodia have a very poor league. We came here to gain experience for our future, he said.
It was a sloppy first half performance by the Malaysians, who were the silver medallists in Kuala Lumpur two years ago.
But from a corner kick by Rajan in the 15th minute, overlapping rightback Yosri surprised himself when his swinging shot from 20m out sailed past out-of-position Cambodian goalkeeper Ouk Mic.
Indra Putra netted the second goal with seconds remaining in the half. He ran past four players from the middle of the pitch to beat Ouk Mic.
The floodgates opened four minutes after the breather. Akmal Rizal put the ball into the net off a free-kick by Irwan Fadli Idrus from the left.
Two minutes later, Akmal scored his second and Malaysia's fourth when he slotted the ball home off a cross by Rajan from the right. He completed his hat-trick in the 79th minute with another good finishing.
In between, Juzaili put his name in the scoresheet after 57 minutes, while Rajan had two great goals one from the top right corner of the box in the 68th minute and another off a pass by Yosri after 75 minutes.
Cambodia, who rarely made dangerous attempts, found their consolation goal four minutes before the final whistle through striker Ung Kanyanith.
It was Malaysia's second biggest scoreline ever in the SEA Games history. The biggest win was also over Cambodia 9-0 in 1995.
Meanwhile, Myanmar, bronze medallists two years ago, defeated Singapore 2-0 in the second match of the group after leading 1-0 at half-time through skipper Soe Myat Min in the 33rd minute. Htay Aung scored the second goal after 64 minutes to wrap up the victory. Bernama