Kuala Lumpur (The Star/ANN) - Malaysia made the critics eat their words with a rousing 2-0 win over Indonesia to book a place in the AFF Suzuki Cup semifinals at the National Stadium in Bukit Jalil.
The Malaysian Tigers were written off following their 3-0 mauling by Singapore in the opening Group B match last Sunday. They stormed back into the reckoning by routing Laos 4-1 and, last night, made sure of their ticket to the last four with a scintillating display in a packed stadium.
Both sides started cautiously and the match suddenly came alive after the 20th minute when Azamuddin Akil sent the fans into a frenzy with the opening goal in the 26th minute. Three minutes later, the vociferous fans got their money's worth when right-back Mahali Jasuli made it 2-0.
National coach Datuk K. Rajagopal was simply delighted with his side's comfortable win.
"We started brightly and scored two goals in the first half, but it was still a tough match," said Rajagopal.
"Indonesia were pressing for a goal despite being two goals down. I was telling my players to kill off the game with a third goal but we couldn't get the breakthrough."
Indonesia coach Nil Maizar took full responsibility for the team's defeat.
"The players gave it their everything but it wasn't good enough," said a dejected Maizar.
"I take responsibility for this defeat. We were playing well until we conceded the two goals in a three-minute spell."
The win left Malaysia as Group B runners-up behind leaders Singapore on goal difference. Singapore beat Laos 4-3 in the other match to end up with six points and head the standings with a better goal difference.
Malaysia play Group A champions Thailand at the Bukit Jalil National Stadium next Sunday.
The match's turning point came when winger Wan Zack Haikal Wan Nor was moved to the right flank and Azamuddin went to the left.
Wan Zack's link-up play with the over-lapping Mahali forced the Indonesian back-line to back-pedal.
In one of their marauding runs down the flank, Mahali sneaked past the Indonesian defence to send in a cross for Azamuddin to slam in the first goal.
Three minutes later it was Mahali's turn to get on the score sheet when he burst into the Indonesian penalty box to score from a tight angle to double Malaysia's lead.
Malaysia picked up from where they left in the second half and continued with their fast pressing game while the defence smothered Indonesia's attacks.
Maizar rang in the changes by bringing in the attacking trio of Andik Vermanshah, Tonnie Cussel and Jhonny Van Beukering to get back into the game but it yielded nothing.
Rajagopal also made changes by taking out the injured Mohd Shakir Shaari, Norsharul Idlan Talaha and Azamuddin and replacing them with Gary Steven Robbat, Amar Rohidan and Ahmad Fakri Saarani.
And towards the end of the game, the frustrated Indonesians resorted to rough house tactics but the Tigers kept their cool to seal their place in the semifinals.