This was a game between a 158th ranked Malaysia against a 116th ranked Tajikistan but on the evidence of how the match transpired, it looked very much like a match-up between two equal teams. In fact Malaysia dominated much of the play and at the end, deservedly went away with a very encouraging win at the Bukit Jalil National Stadium.
Having just scored at the same venue in the Malaysia Cup final just a week ago, Safawi Rasid once again was the decider for his team as his solitary goal in the second half was sufficient to secure the win and set Tan Cheng Hoe's boys into a confident mood ahead of two crucial home matches in the 2022 World Cup qualifier.
The home side were the first to threatened when a La'Vere Corbin-Ong cross from the left in the 7th minute found Syahmi Safari but the latter shot was block by an alert Tajikistan defence. But because Cheng Hoe selected a fairly new starting eleven, Tajikistan slowly managed to play themselves into the game. Dzhailov Alisher was presented with two good opportunities but he couldn't make the rare moments count.
The new midfield combination of Baddrol Bakhtiar, Syamer Kutty Abba and Nor Azam Azih looked at odds at times with Baddrol and Nor Azam seemingly in each other's way because both have a similar style of play. While Syamer took time to get into his groove due to lack of playing time prior to this call-up.
A red card shown to Tajikistan goalkeeper Rustam Yatimov turned the match increasingly towards Malaysia's favour. Yatimov rushed out of his box and was sent off because he handled the ball when trying to beat Syahmi Safari to the ball.
Sensing an opportunity to claim a win against a higher ranked opponent, Cheng Hoe opted to replace Matthew Davies with Safawi and within just 12 minutes, will reap the reward of that decision. The Johor Darul Ta'zim forward was sent clear on the right, managed to cut inside to his favourite left foot before sending a powerful shot right into the top corner for what turned out to be the only goal of the match.
Playing with one man less, Tajikistan were unable to trouble the Malaysian defence despite having seen starters Aidil Zafuan and Corbin-Ong taken off for Adam Nor Azlin and Syazwan Andik respectively. A positive performance to cap a wonderful result but all that will mean very little if the positive momentum cannot be continued in the upcoming ties against Thailand and Indonesia.
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