(after extra time, Vietnam win 6-5 on penalties)

VIETNAM stuck to their game plan for 120 minutes and their reward was the Merdeka Tournament title after they first held free-scoring Malaysia to a 0-0 draw and then won the lottery of penalties 6-5 at the National Stadium last night.

Norhafiz Zamani Misbah was the Malaysian "villain", missing the first of the sudden death penalties while Mai Tien Thanh converted his effort but it was an unfair result as the national team played much better than their opponents and deserved to win. Their form en route to the final, which saw them scoring 18 goals and conceding none, certainly pointed to the title being retained convincingly.

But Vietnam, preparing for next year's Laos Sea Games, would soon prove to be far tougher opponents and they lived up to their promise to keep a close eye on the Malaysian forwards.
Safee Sali and Indra Putra Mahayuddin, whose partnership has been impressive throughout, were willing but found the Vietnamese defenders an uncompromising lot as they hardly gave the Malaysians any room to move.

Vietnam's game plan was to defend in numbers with quick counter attacks and the offside trap at every opportunity and in one of these situations, Indra slotted the ball into the net in the seventh minute only for the linesman to intervene with his flag. Malaysia kept pressing but failed to make half chances count as Shukor Adan headed straight to Vietnam keeper Bui Tan Truong.

Vietnam had a chance of their own two minutes later but skipper Mai Xuan Hop's effort from close range was blocked by Irwan Fadhli. It had been a largely uneventful first half and the script didn't change much in the second as Malaysia continued pressing but lacked the final touch while Vietnam were content with the occasional counter attack.

One added ingredient though was overly robust play and one incident in the 70th minute, which saw a Vietnam player sprawled on the pitch following a challenge, resulted in assistant coach Khoa Hung Binh being sent to the stands for his protests. The remaining minutes were equally uneventful, forcing extra time but the additional 30 minutes remained goalless and when it came to penalties, Vietnam proved just why they played for the 120 minutes as they scored all six to lift the Merdeka Tournament title for the first time. NST


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