YANGON: Winger Faisal Halim and goalkeeper Syihan Hazmi starred for Malaysia as they kicked off their ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) Mitsubishi Electric Cup campaign with a 1-0 triumph over Myanmar at the Thuwunna Stadium in Yangon on Wednesday (Dec 21).

While Faisal scored the winning goal in the 52nd minute, Malaysia also owed their victory to Syihan, who saved a penalty in the Group B opener.

With all three points in the bag, the Harimau Malaya got the start they wanted in their quest to end their 12-year wait for the cup.

But it was not a smooth ride for Malaysia in front of the 2,500 spectators at the stadium, as the hosts took charge of proceedings with their fast and short passes when in possession and quick retreats to close the gaps when defending.

Myanmar, coached by Antoine Hey, sounded an early warning when midfielder Lwin Moe Aung’s long-range attempt in the eighth minute sailed just wide.

Myanmar then squandered another chance in the 19th minute when striker Aung Kaung Mann was slow to pull the trigger after receiving a pass from Lwin Moe Aung.

After failing to test the goalkeeper in the first 20 minutes, Faisal had the chance to make Myanmar pay for a defensive mistake, but he missed the target from close range.

With both teams tied at 0-0 at half-time, Malaysia’s coach Kim Pan-gon decided to bring on striker Lee Tuck to replace Darren Lok after the break, and it did not take long for the substitute to make an impact.

Using his speed, Lee intercepted a pass and relayed it to Safawi Rasid, who played a through ball to Faisal. The winger sent a grounder past Myanmar goalkeeper Kyaw Zin Phyo in the 52nd minute.

Stung by the goal, Myanmar launched a series of attacks, but the Malaysian defence, ably marshalled by Sharul Nazeem, managed to keep them at bay.

Undeterred, Myanmar kept pushing for the equaliser, and Kyaw Min Oo came close with a long-range shot that was pushed out by Syihan.

Towards the end of the match, a Sharul handball saw the referee pointing to the spot.

Fortunately for Malaysia, Syihan dived to his left to deny Myat Kaung Khant and preserve his side’s slim lead until the final whistle.

Malaysia will now head home to take on Laos at the Bukit Jalil National Stadium on Saturday before travelling to Hanoi to face Vietnam on Dec 27. They will complete their Group B fixtures at home against Singapore on Jan 3.

The top two teams from Group A and Group B will advance to the semi-finals.

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