It turned out to be easier than expected as Malaysia, thanks to a more aggressive approach in the second half, beat Myanmar 4-0 in their Merdeka Tournament semi-final at the National Stadium yesterday. The final is against Vietnam but Malaysia will be confident as yesterday's win was again achieved without conceding a goal and there is every reason to believe that the title will be defended successfully tomorrow.

Perhaps the pressure of the semi-final got to the national team as Malaysia took some time to settle down and Myanmar didn't make it easier as they didn't give their opponents much time on the ball. Myanmar had promised to work hard and that they did as Malaysia were limited to mere half chances.

To Malaysia's credit, they continued trying to breach the Myanmar defence and their efforts were rewarded in the 26th minute when Indra Putra Mahayuddin struck from a freekick. The momentum was with Malaysia after that but as they surged forward in search of a second goal, gaps opened in defence and the national team had a narrow escape in the 40th minute when Myat Min found his way through again but his shooting was woeful.

As Malaysia headed for the dressing room at half time, the thought must have been that the job was not done and that translated into an even more aggressive approach at the restart. They should have gone two up in the 54th minute but Amirulhadi Zainal's header was cleared on the line by Myanmar defender Aye San.

But Malaysia were not to be denied their second and Safee Sali, who has been a standout in the tournament, widened the lead in the 61st minute when, after receiving the ball from Hardi Jaafar, he broke through and slotted home from close range. Malaysia's third came from the penalty spot after Aye San brought down Safee in the 76th minute. Indra easily converted. Indra turned provider for the fourth as his pass found Amirulhadi who placed the ball into the far right in the 84th minute.


In the other semi-final, Vietnam needed penalty kicks to advance against Sierra Leone after extra time ended 2-2. Vietnam, here with a squad being prepared for next year's Sea Games, won the shootout 3-2.

Sierra Leone had only themselves to blame as they led 2-0, thanks to Mohammad Kabia (39th) and Dwight Foray (68th minute), but the tide turned into Vietnam's favour when Trinnh Quang Vinh scored their first.

Vietnam pulled no punches in search of the equaliser and seven minutes from time, Nguyen Duc Thien drew them level to force extra-time, which produced no further goals. And Sierra Leone's nightmare was complete when they proved hopeless from the penalty spot and Vietnam now stand in Malaysia's way for back-to-back titles. NST

Full results
MALAYSIA 4 - 0 Myanmar

Vietnam 2 - 2 Sierra Leone
Vietnam won penalty shootout 3-2


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