NAM DINH (Vietnam): Malaysia lost the opportunity to be the first football team to advance to the semi-finals of the 31st South East Asian (SEA) Games after drawing 2-2 with traditional rivals Singapore in their third Group B match at Thien Truong Stadium here today.
The result breaks the two-match winning streak against Thailand and Laos and makes the final match against Cambodia the decider in their quest to qualify for the knockout stage of the competition.
The match against Singapore was hotly contested from the get-go, and Malaysia wasted no time to pull ahead through Luqman Hakim Shamsudin, who deftly found an open space in the penalty box and score a blistering goal in the fourth minute.
The goal is his third in the biennial Games following his two goals against Laos last Wednesday.
However, it took only three minutes for Singapore to reply as Malaysian keeper Muhammad Azri Ab Ghani failed to save an attempt from outside the box by Singapore midfielder Nur Muhammad Shah Shahiran.
Things got exciting as both teams launched attacks, and Malaysia nearly succeeded with a 25th minute effort by striker Ahmad Danial Ahmad Asri, which was blocked by Singapore captain and goalkeeper Zaiful Nizam Abdullah.
Luqman Hakim had a golden opportunity to add to his first goal in the 32nd minute after receiving a beautiful pass from his teammate but his shot failed to get pass vigilant Zaiful Nizam.
As half-time drew nearer, Malaysia once again threatened but defender Harith Haiqal Adam Afkar header floated just above the top goalpost, leaving both teams tied at 1-1 at the end of the first half.
Both teams played with intensity in the second half, but there were no real attempts from both teams until the 76th minute, when Singapore striker Kweh Jia Jin Glenn sent his shot ballooning over the goal.
Two minutes later, however, midfielder Harhys Rizal Gareth Ian Stewart finally put Singapore in the driver’s seat after he got into the penalty box to slot home the free kick taken by teammate Nur Muhammad.
That did not, however, deter the Malaysians from trying to equalise, which they did through a header by Muhammad Faiz Amer Runnizar off a corner kick in the 82nd minute.
Tensions rose as the match drew to a close, and the match had to be stopped for a while due to a pushing incident between players as both teams continued to play aggressively.
While the 2-2 score at the end of the final whistle meant that Malaysia failed to be the first team to qualify in their group, the draw ended any chance of Singapore qualifying for the semi-finals as they only have five points from four matches.
Malaysia currently has seven points and are on top of the group, with both semi-final slots still up for grabs. Remaining teams, Cambodia and Thailand will take on each other in their group match tonight.
Should either team triumph tonight, it would assure Malaysia’s place in the semi-finals.-Bernama