Malaysia oozed class as they hammered Thailand 3-0 in their final preliminary round match at the Darulmakmur Stadium in Kuantan.
And with Myanmar defeating Singapore 2-0 in another match played at the Temerloh Stadium, they will take on Malaysia in what will be an intriguing clash between two teams who have stood out in the 41st Pestabola Merdeka.
Malaysia made several changes to their starting line but key players Wan Zack Haikal and A. Thamil Arasu were left out due to injury and suspension respectively. Both are however expected back for the final on Saturday.
Coach Ong Kim Swee opted to play mostly players who were with him in Europe with three exceptions in T.Reuben, S.Sivanesan and Mohd Zubir Mohd Azmi.
“It was a good performance and it has given me a selection headache ahead of Saturday’s final. But it is a welcomed headache and I was impressed by the determination of the players fielded for the first time who wanted to prove they were worthy of a place in the starting XI,” said Kim Swee.
“We moved the ball well and I must reiterate that I pick players on their overall contribution to the team and not just because they score goals or are big names”
The two teams started of slowly, feeling each other up, with play confined mostly to the midfield area. But as minutes ticked away, Malaysia started showing more cohesion despite making as much as seven changes to their starting line-up.
Malaysia took the lead in the 11th minute through Md Nasir Basharuddin whose shot from the edge of the box sailed through a sea of legs into goal catching Thailand keeper Arikhan Same unsighted.
Thailand had a golden chance to draw level in the 23rd minute when Pinyo Inpinit burst through on the right but Malaysian custodian Mohd Izham Tarmizi pulled off a fine save, diving full length to send the ball around the post.
S. Sivanesan burst through the middle in the 25th minute but with only the Thai keeper top beat, he balloned his shot over the bar.
Sivanesan atoned for his miss by setting up the second goal as he beat the offside trap and crossed to Md Rozaimi Ab Rahman who had the simplest of tasks to guide the ball into goal with Same beaten to give Malaysia a 2-0 lead in the 27th minute.
Though Thailand made several inroads in the second half, they only came close in the 65th minute when they were awarded a free kick at the edge of the penalty box. However the Malaysian wall stood firm to deny Kasidech Wattayawong.
Off a fast counter in the 80th minute, Rozaimi broke through and unleasshed a shot that had goal written all over it with Arikhan beaten all the way and Malaysia had a 3-0 lead, thus pulling Myanmar into the final with them.
The goals for Myanmar were scored by Kyaw Ko Ko in the 14th minute and 90th minutes. Though both Myanmar and Thailand finished with four points, Myanmar sneaked through on goal difference.