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Football / AFF Suzuki Cup: Glorious bravehearts in blue

Posted: 29 Dec 2010 04:24 PM PST

Reports by Devinder Singh in Jakarta

Malaysia goalkeeper Khairul Fahmi Che Mat (in orange) and Indonesia’s Cristian Gonzales vie for the ball in their AFF Suzuki Cup final second leg match at the Bung Karno Stadium yesterday. — Picture by Khairul Ghazali

Malaysia goalkeeper Khairul Fahmi Che Mat (in orange) and Indonesia's Cristian Gonzales vie for the ball in their AFF Suzuki Cup final second leg match at the Bung Karno Stadium yesterday. — Picture by Khairul Ghazali

HEROES, every single one of them.

The bravehearts in blue walked tall after conquering Indonesia in the cauldron of Bung Karno Stadium as skipper Safiq Rahim lifted the AFF Suzuki Cup after completing a 4-2 aggregate victory in Jakarta.

The 2-1 defeat in the second leg did not matter as the job had been done three days earlier in Bukit Jalil as Malaysia celebrated their first title in 14 years of trying in the competition. It was also Malaysia's first major success since the senior team won the 1989 Sea Games gold.

Safee Sali added to the excitement by finishing as top scorer with five goals and it was his cool finish eight minutes after the break which virtually settled the second leg after goalkeeper Khairul Fahmi Che Mat had rescued Malaysia with a penalty save in the first half.

The defence, led by the stout Muslim Ahmad and Fadhli Shas, held firm against the waves of attack from the home team but K. Rajagobal's tactics were spot on to send 95,000 fans home disappointed.

A cagey start by both teams meant there little by way of goal-mouth action early on.

The closest Indonesia came to a goal in the first half was an 18th-minute penalty, awarded by Australian referee Peter Green after Sabre Mat Abu handled the ball.

Skipper Firman Utina, however, struck weakly as Fahmi made an easy save to his left.

Ashaari Samsuddin twice came close to killing the tie for Malaysia with a left-footer that went wide and a slalom and shot which Markus Harrison in the Indonesia goal punched clear.

But Ashaari's lack of defensive discipline often left Malaysia exposed on the flank and Indonesia nearly took advantage with Cristian Gonzales, Muhammad Ridwan and Arif Suyono all going close late on.

Had Amar Rohidan not headed off Ridwan's lob in first half stoppage time, with the aid of the cross bar, Malaysia would have trooped off at half-time with their lead slashed. Ashaari, however, proved a capable replacement for Amirulhadi Zainal when Malaysia scored against the run of play in the 53rd minute.

The Terengganu winger intercepted a pass and spotted Safee making a run through the middle and found the striker with a pin-point pass.

Safee took the ball in his stride, shrugged off the attention of the Indonesian centre-backs and fired the ball past a helpless Markus.

From then on it was about seeing out the game and protecting the four-goal even if there was more than half an hour to go and Indonesia throwing on Bambang Pamungkas in a sign of desperation. Mohammad Nasuha bagged an equaliser in the 71st minute off a rebound after Fahmi had saved a strike on goal before Ridwan's attempt was deflected into goal by Muslim three minutes from time but it was too little too late.

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Football / AFF Suzuki Cup: Raja hails young guns

Posted: 29 Dec 2010 04:23 PM PST

THEY arrived in armoured carriers and left in the same way but there was no denying that this Malaysian team needed no protection on the field.

The sweat and tears were amply rewarded and even the jeers that accompanied their victory dance could not dampen the joyous celebration of the players.

Coach K. Rajagobal saluted the heroic efforts of his young players who backed up their Sea Games success last year with a history-defining win in the AFF Suzuki Cup yesterday.

After being given little hope of even advancing past the group stage, the national team will return home triumphantly after defying the jeers of 95,000 Indonesian fans for a 4-2 aggregate victory.

"I am very proud of my players, the young players especially the defenders," said Rajagobal yesterday.

"We were confident of winning it here as we have shown against Thailand and Vietnam previously that we are good enough.

"We always knew Indonesia would come at us and we relied on the counter to try to score a goal. I knew a goal would come and after we scored, there was no way they were going to put five past us."

Khairul Fahmi Che Mat's penalty save was the defining moment of the match although Rajagobal said it would not have mattered had Firman Utina scored.

"So what if they scored the penalty? I know in your minds that it would have changed things but it would not. We still would have been able to score and then it is back to square one for them.

"Safee (Sali) scored a beautiful goal from a defence-splitting pass and that is exactly why we are the champions because we are the better team."

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