LONDON: Saudi Arabia's U-23 side crashed out of the AFC U-23 Championship after suffering a shock defeat to Malaysia in Changshu.
The young Green Falcons only needed a draw against the group's bottom team to progress to the quarter-finals but they were stunned by a 29th-minute goal from Danial Amier Norhisham and despite dominating possession (they enjoyed nearly 70 percent of the ball) and making double the number of passes as their opponents, they could only muster five shots on target and couldn't engineer a breakthrough. The team's frustration was writ large and things boiled over at the death when defender Hamdan Al-Shamrani was sent off for kicking Malaysian player Safawi Rasid while he laying on the ground injured. It was a bitter end to a tournament Saudi Arabia were much fancied for.
"I think all of us saw that Malaysia created very few goal-scoring occasions, only one in the game," said Saudi Arabia coach Daniel Teglia. "We were calm in the game but we didn’t take the opportunity to convert the chances into goals. I want to say congratulations to the Malaysia team and wish them the best of luck. What we had to do we didn’t do it exactly and that was convert the chances into goals. In some moments we were nervous and the passing wasn’t good in the game. We didn’t make good use of the time we had."
The win took the streetwise Malaysians through as surprise group runners up behind winners Iraq.
"It’s a good result, the boys showed courage and determination and that has brought us to the quarter-finals," said their head coach, Ong Kim Swee. "I don’t want to talk about how we played, because in these situations the result is the most important thing. I’m very satisfied in terms of the result and to get into the quarter-finals. That’s history for us and we have shown we are bunch of players who can play."
Knowing a draw would see them through to the next round, Teglia made three changes to his side, dropping Sami Al-Naji, Osama Al-Khalaf and Fahad Jumayah and calling up Sultan bin Jamal, Rakan Al-Anaze and Fahad Al-Rashidi.
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Teglia planned to use the width provided by wingers Al-Rashidi and Abdullah Joui to carve open the five-man Malaysian defence and it looked like it was going to be their night when Al-Rashidi’s lofted free-kick into the box hit the top of the crossbar. Al-Rashidi was the architect again on 16 minutes, his in-swinging corner finding Abdulelah Al-Amri who rose the highest and forced a smart save from Haziq Nadzli in the Malaysia goal. It looked only a matter of time before the goal came.
Then in the 28th minute, against the run of play, Malaysia took the lead after a costly defensive mistake from the usually dependable Abdulelah Al-Amri led to Amier Norhisham smashing the ball into the bottom right corner for his first goal for his country. It was his side's first attempt on goal and only their second of the entire 90 minutes.
From then on it was virtually all Saudi Arabia. Al-Anaze had an effort cleared off the line, Al-Amri had a right-footed shot saved, Jaber Asiri went close at the start of the second half and then Al-Rashidi saw a shot from the edge of the box go just inches wide.
Teglia went for broke and brought on an extra forward in Abdulaziz Al-Aryani for midfielder Bin Jamal, but the team fell into the trap of going too long and that played into Malaysia's hands. Saudi Arabia huffed and puffed, mustering 15 attempts on goal but they just couldn't find a way through and bowed out of the tournament.
SAUDI ARABIA's MAN OF THE MATCH: Fahad Al-Rashidi. The tidy two-footed footballer was at the core of everything that was good for the Saudis, hitting the crossbar in the first minutes and creating chances from the flanks that were not taken by a toothless Saudi Arabia strike-force.
SAUDI ARABIA: 1 Amin Al-Bukhari; 5 Abdulelah Al-Amri, 23 Ali Al-Lajami [c], 12 Mohammed Al-Baqawi, 13 Hamdan Al-Shamrani; 11 Abdullah Al-Joui (Mujahid Al-Mania 84’), 16 Sultan bin Jamal (20 Abdulaziz Al-Aryani 60’), 17 Abdullah Al Khaibari, 19 Fahad Al-Rashidi, 7 Rakan Al-Anaze, 18 Jaber Asiri.
MALAYSIA: 1 Haziq Nadzli; 2 Matthew Davies, 15 Dominic Tan, 17 Irfan Zakaria, 21 Syazwan Andik, 9 Adam Nor Azlin [c]; 6 Safawi Rasid, 8 Nor Azam Azih (14 Syamer Kutty Abba 68’), 16 Danial Amier Norhisham, 18 Akhyar Rashid (7 Akif Syahiran 83), 19 Raj Kogileswaran (11 Jafri Chew 46’).
Referee: Ryuji Sato (Japan)
Linesmen: Iida Jumpei (Japan) & Kim Dong Jin (South Korea)
Fourth Official: Toru Sagara (Japan)
Cautions: Abdulelah Al-Amri 27’, Raj Kogileswaran 31’, Irfan Zakaria 45’ (+1), Jafri Chew 51’, Mohammed Al-Baqawi 54’, 19 Fahad Al-Rashidi 90’ (+5)
Sending Off: Hamdan Al-Shamrani 90’ (+5)