KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia ended their more than 40-year wait to qualify on merit for the 2023 Asian Cup by scoring an emotional victory over Bangladesh at the National Stadium in Bukit Jalil here tonight.
The Harimau Malaya squad coached by Kim Pan Gon thrashed Bangladesh 4-1 in their final Group E match of the Asian Cup Qualifiers.
Playing before 52,964 spectators, the national squad scored the convincing win and ended with six points to finish behind group champions Bahrain and book their ticket to the 2023 Asian Cup as one of the top five runners-up.
The goals were scored by Muhammad Safawi Rasid, Dion Cools, Muhammad Syafiq Ahmad and substitute Darren Lok.
A highly motivated Malaysia started aggressively by serving an early warning when striker Muhammad Syafiq Ahmad’s shot in the sixth minute beat goalkeeper Anisur Rahman but struck the post.
Their relentless attacks in the early stages finally paid off when Muhammad Safawi Rasid put them ahead in the 16th minute through a penalty, which was awarded after Matthew Davies was brought down by Mohammad Atiqur Rahman.
Three minutes later Muhammad Safawi narrowly missed doubling the lead for Malaysia as the Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) player’s header was pushed away by Rahman.
Just as Malaysia were dominating play, Bangladesh silenced the crowd by equalising in the 31st minute when Mohammad Ibrahim headed the ball into the net off a long cross from his teammate.
Malaysia took the lead again in the 38th minute when defender Dion Cools let fly a left-footed shot which beat Rahman to register his first goal for the national squad.
Malaysia continued to control the game and widened their lead when skipper Muhammad Syafiq scored with a header from a cross by Mohamad Faisal Halim two minutes into the second half.
Bangladesh, coached by Javier Fernandes Penato, had a chance to narrow the gap in the 57th minute but substitute Md Foysal Ahmed Fahim’s close-range shot was blocked by goalkeeper Ahmad Syihan Hazmi.
Malaysia, who last qualified on merit for the Asian Cup in the 1980 edition in Kuwait, sealed their victory when substitute Darren Lok latched onto a pass from Muhammad Akhyar Abdul Rashid to score their fourth goal in the 73rd minute.
However, Muhammad Akhyar’s dream of getting his name on the score sheet was dashed when his header in the 79th minute hit the crossbar, keeping the score at 4-1 until referee Zaid Thamer Mohammed of Iraq blew the final whistle.
Malaysia last played in the Asian Cup in 2007 when they co-hosted the tournament.
Meanwhile, in a post-match press conference, Pan Gon thanked everyone - fans, Super League teams, local club coaches and club owners, especially JDT’s boss Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim who let 15 Southern Tigers players join the national team.
He also appreciated the willingness of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob to be at the National Stadium to support the team tonight and during their previous match against Bahrain.
“And tonight’s special thanks go to all our Harimau Malaya players. I’m very proud of them and how good they are. They really gave their passion and energy, and what fans wanted I think we delivered tonight,“ he said. — Bernama