KUALA LUMPUR • A half-time pep talk from coach Tan Cheng Hoe revived Malaysia's spirits, but it was not quite enough for a win after the hosts were held 2-2 by Vietnam in the first leg of the AFF Suzuki Cup final yesterday.
Safawi Rasid equalised after the break in the Asean Football Federation championship two-legged decider and, though Harimau Malaya tried to push for the winner, the visitors held firm at the Bukit Jalil National Stadium.
Nguyen Huy Hung's opener and a long-range strike from Pham Duc Huy deflated the hopes of the home fans early on.
A quick break from Vietnam in the 21st minute ripped the defence apart, with Hung pouncing on a sloppy clearance from Nazirul Naim to score despite Shahrul Saad's last-ditch attempt to clear right on the line.
Three minutes later, Huy's screamer beat a sprawling Farizal Marlias to give the 2008 champions a healthy two-goal advantage.
Malaysia fought back, with Shahrul getting it right this time by heading in a free kick from Syamer Kutty Abba in the 36th minute.
In the second half, they continued to enjoy the lion's share of possession, but Vietnam remained tactically resolute, relying on counter-attacks to cause problems.
However, Tan's men got their equaliser in the 56th minute after Safawi curled in a beautiful free kick, which fired up the crowd.
The coach then made a tactical switch to a three-man defence in a bid to give his side more attacking impetus, bringing on Syafiq Ahmad for Amirul Azhan.
The game opened up but the all-important third goal proved elusive. The 2010 winners Malaysia, who surprised two-time defending champions Thailand in the semi-finals, will travel to Hanoi to play at the My Dinh Stadium on Saturday.
ASIA NEWS NETWORK/THE STAR