Two stunning goals by Safawi Rasid helped Malaysia beat arch-rivals Indonesia 2-0 in a Group G match of the 2022 FIFA World Cup/2023 AFC Asian Cup qualifiers at the National Stadium in Bukit Jalil on Tuesday.
As leading striker Syafiq Ahmad and defender Mathew Davies had to miss the match after collecting two yellow cards, Mohamadou Sumareh was given the role of central striker, while Safawi and Akhyar Rashid were playing as right and left wingers respectively.
The match was closely contested from the first whistle with both teams in attacking mode, with the Garuda threatening first when Febri Hariyadi attempted a long shot that sailed over the crossbar in the sixth minute.
Febri was then presented with another scoring chance in a one-on-one with Khairulazhan Khalid in the 20th minute, which saw the Malaysia goalkeeper getting injured while saving the dangerous shot.
Malaysia head coach Tan Cheng Hoe then brought in Farizal Marlias to replace the injured Khairulazhan.
The Harimau Malaya finally broke the deadlock through a free-kick taken by Safawi in the 29th minute which sailed into the left corner past goalkeeper Muhammad Ridho, sending the home crowd wild with cheers.
Malaysia had a few opportunities to increase their lead but Syamer Kutty Abba’s shot off a pass from Norshahrul Idlan Talaha in the 64th minute was a bit too high, while Brendan Gan’s attempt four minutes later was pushed out by Muhammad Ridho.
Safawi then rocked the stadium once again when he let fly a powerful shot from the left side of the goalmouth which beat Muhammad Ridho.
Indonesia had a golden chance to narrow the gap when they were awarded a penalty after Farizal brought down Febri inside the penalty area in the 82nd minute.
However, the goalkeeper pulled off a brilliant save to deny Indonesia’s Nigerian-born striker Osas Marvellous.
Safawi, who was named the best player of the match for his sterling performance, had two opportunities to bag a hat-trick, but his free-kick in the 84th minute and a long shot two minutes later were both off target.
In another Group G match, Vietnam and Thailand played to a goalless draw in Hanoi, enabling Malaysia, who now have nine points after five matches in the qualifiers, to overtake the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Thailand for the second spot, behind Vietnam who have 11 points.
Thailand are third with eight points, followed by the UAE with six points from four matches, while Indonesia are at the bottom of Group G without any point after five matches.
Meanwhile, there was a minor commotion involving fans of both teams after the match ended.
A Bernama check outside the National Stadium showed that some fans were throwing bottles, traffic cones and firecrackers at rival supporters.
Federal Reserve Unit personnel quickly brought the situation under control and Indonesian fans were also escorted out of the stadium in batches by police.
(Picture: Football Association of Malaysia)