Two stunning goals by Muhammad Safawi Rasid helped Malaysia beat arch-rivals Indonesia 2-0 in the 2022 World Cup/2023 Asian Cup qualifiers at the National Stadium in Bukit Jalil here tonight (Tuesday).
As leading striker Muhammad 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 Muhammad Akhyar Rashid were playing as right and left-wingers respectively.
The match was closely contested from the first whistle with both teams mounting raids, and the Garuda squad almost breached the Malaysian goal when Febri Hariyadi made a long attempt in the sixth minute, only to see it sail over the crossbar.
Febri was then presented with another scoring chance in a one-on-one with goalkeeper Khairulazhan Mohd Khalid in the 20th minute, which saw the Malaysian getting injured while saving the dangerous shot.
Chief coach Tan Cheng Hoe then brought in Mohd Farizal Marlias to replace Khairulazhan.
Malaysia finally broke the deadlock through a freekick by Safawi in the 29th minute which sailed into the left corner past goalkeeper Muhammad Ridho, sending the home crowd wild with cheers.
However, the goal prompted a section of Indonesian supporters to resort to burning flares and rival fans to hurl objects towards each other.
After the interval, Malaysia, the world’s 158th ranked team, could have increased their lead but Mohamad 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 again rocked the stadium of 75,000 fans 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 Mohd Farizal felled Febri who made a run into the penalty box in the 82nd minute.
However, Mohd Farizal pulled off a brilliant save to deny Indonesia’s penalty-kick taker, Nigerian-born striker Osas Marvellous, to add his name on the score sheet.
Safawi, 22, then received two opportunities for a possible hattrick but his freekick in the 84th minute and a long shot two minutes later were both off target.
Safawi was named the best player of the match for his sterling performance.
The last time Indonesia beat Malaysia at the National Stadium was when they scored a 4-1 win in the semi-finals of the AFF Cup 2005, while Malaysia beat them 3-0 and 2-0 in the AFF Cup 2010 and 2012 respectively.
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 to lie in the second spot, behind Vietnam who has 11 points.
Thailand is third with eight points, followed by UAE with six points from four matches, while Indonesia is at the bottom of Group G without a point after five matches.