Malaysia and Thailand will go into their AFF Suzuki Cup 2018 semi-final second leg on December 5 with the outcome poised on a knife edge after a goalless draw in their first meeting on Saturday at a sold-out Bukit Jalil Stadium.
The hosts had begun the tie strongly in front of over 87,000 supporters filling the stands to capacity, and within the first five minutes starlet Safawi Rasid had already blazed over twice as the Harimau Malaya looked to impose themselves early on.
And, indeed, it was Safawi who went close to breaking the deadlock with the first meaningful shot on target on 19 minutes.
The Johor Darul Ta’zim youngster was sent through into the area after an impudent backheel by Mohamadou Sumareh, only to see his drive across goal pushed away by Thailand goalkeeper Chatchai Budprom.
Malaysia’s prolificacy was almost made to pay just five minutes later as Nurul Sriyankem hammered a shot high from 12 yards following Supachai Jaided’s dinked pass over the top.
Sumareh then twice went close in a matter of minutes at the other end. First seeing a shot bobble wide following a quick team counterattack, and then a surging solo run that the Gambian-born midfielder couldn’t quite find a finish for.
And so Malaysia finished the half as they had begun it: on top and with the defending AFF Suzuki Cup champions looking off the pace but, crucially, still all square.
In an attempt to wrest control of the match, Thailand beefed up their midfield after the restart with Pokklaw Annan replacing the more attacking Supachai, who would see no birthday goal having turned 20 years old ahead of the tie.
While play did even out, the two sides struggled to find the target as the teams’ top scorers Norshahrul Idlan and Adisak Kraisorn both saw efforts on goal at either end go askew.
Norshahrul then had a golden chance to put the home side on the scoreboard but he couldn’t keep his volleyed effort from close range down, after he’d been put through via a slick one-two with Zaquan Adha.
Safawi, who had his sights on goal at the very beginning of the tie, appropriately had the final chance in stoppage time but it, too, was well off target.
The scene is now set for an intriguing return clash on Wednesday at Bangkok’s Rajamangala Stadium, as we wait to see which team will join the winner of the Philippines and Vietnam in the AFF Suzuki Cup 2018 final.