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Malaysia 1-1 Afghanistan: Hadin shines as Tigers put on brave performance

There was a notion of surprise about Datuk Ong Kim Swee’s starting eleven, as it featured names like Kedah’s Syazwan Zainon in midfield and Perak’s Fazrul Hazli as the right winger. On paper, it looked like a 4-3-3, but it didn’t take long for everyone to realise how defensive Malaysia were required to be against the tricky Afghans.

Led by Pahang’s Faysal Shayesteh, Afghanistan started the game positively, pushing Malaysia back and forcing them to stay pinned in their own half. Norlla Amiri in particular, looked dangerous on the flanks – where a large chunk of their offensive forays were constructed.

After a couple of dangerous attempts from the Lions of Khurasan, Datuk Ong Kim Swee was forced to make his first change, with Syazwan Zainon picking up a shoulder injury. Felda United’s Hadin Azman was introduced, with meant Ong Kim Swee was allowed to maintain the 4-3-3 shape.

But the formation barely reflected Malaysia’s intentions on the pitch, as they struggled to produce anything offensively. And Afghanistan’s relentless pressure had to leave a dent at some point and the blow eventually arrived on the 21st minute. Amiri produced a sensational curling effort to beat Khairul Fahmi and make it 1-0 on the night.

The goal barely did anything to change Malaysia’s structure though. In fact, the only thing it did, was push Shahrul Saad (defensive midfielder on the night) a lot deeper. Even Norshahrul was forced to drop down, which stopped Malaysia from having a focal point in attack, everytime they looked to break forward.

Shahrul Saad’s 31st minute header tested Afghanistan’s defence, before Baddrol Bakthiar could only fire a free-kick attempt straight into the hands of Ovays Azizi. Just when you thought Afghanistan were going go into half-time with a slender 1-0 lead, Malaysia pulled an equaliser out of the magician’s hat as Hadin Azman produced a towering header to make it 1-1, right on the brink of half-time.

The last-gasp goal proved to be a morale-boosting one as Malaysia came out for the second half, firing on all cylinders. Ong Kim Swee introduced Zaquan Adha for Fazrul Hazli and probably instructed his men to go for the jugular – as evidently seen in their second-half tempo. You could almost feel the renewed sense of belief on the pitch.

While the tempo was positive, Afghanistan’s defensive stability made it difficult for Malaysia to produce tangible goalscoring chances. Besides a penalty claim, after Mat Yo was allegedly brought down inside the box, Malaysia could only muster several half-attemps via Baddrol Bakthiar and Hadin Azman, inside the first 15 minutes of the second half.

But as soon as Ong opted to bring on Hazwan Bakri for Fakri, and switch the system to a 4-4-2, Malaysia were able to increase the pressure on Afghanistan. That eventually led to several excellent runs from Hadin Azman on the left flank, before Baddrol Bakthiar’s fantastic attempt on the 75th minute. Unfortunately for the Tigers, it was neatly dealt with by Ovays.

Tempers flared in the last 10 minutes, as you would imagine. Exhausted players and sloppy tackles go hand in hand, all the time. There were several last-ditch attempts from both sides to find the winner, but Afghanistan – visibly the second best side after the break – held on to ensure the match finished 1-1.

As for Malaysia, this was a tale of two halves. Datuk Ong Kim Swee would have been happy with a draw, judging by their first-half performance. But after what they produced in the second half, you wouldn’t blame him if he increased his expectations. Either way, Hadin Azman has surely booked a ticket to the AFF Suzuki Cup with that performance, hasn’t he?


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