Asian Games: Malaysia's Under-23 football team shock Son Heung-min's South Korea to qualify for round of 16

Johor Darul Takzim starlet Safawi Rasid (left) was hailed the hero thanks to a first-half brace in the fifth and 45th minute.
Johor Darul Takzim starlet Safawi Rasid (left) was hailed the hero thanks to a first-half brace in the fifth and 45th minute.PHOTO: AFP

Defending champs sunk by Safawi's brace as Harimau Muda secure place in round of 16

Malaysia recorded the biggest shock of this year's Asian Games football tournament when they stunned four-time champions South Korea 2-1 at the Jalak Harupat Stadium in Soreang, Indonesia last night.

In doing so, Harimau Muda have qualified for the round of 16 of the Under-23 tournament - they beat Kyrgyzstan 3-1 on Wednesday - as they lead Group E on six points.

Johor Darul Takzim starlet Safawi Rasid was the hero with a first-half brace in the fifth and 45th minute, while Singapore-born Dominic Tan also impressed in defence.

South Korea might have underestimated Ong Kim Swee's team by resting World Cup goalkeeper Jo Hyeon-woo and Tottenham forward Son Heung-min, whose hopes of avoiding national service enlistment rests on his team delivering the Asian Games gold medal.

Son, one of three players over the age of 23 allowed in each team, was called off the bench in the 57th minute and fellow overage striker Hwang Ui-jo of Gamba Osaka pulled one back in the 88th minute. But Malaysia held on for a famous victory - they have never beaten South Korea at the Asian Games in more than 16 years.

South Korea are second in Group E on three points after beating Bahrain 6-0 on Wednesday and will need at least a draw against Kyrgyzstan on Monday to advance to the knockout rounds. Kyrgyzstan and Bahrain have a point each.

The top two teams from the six groups and four best third-placed sides will advance to the last 16.

This is not the first time Ong has pulled off remarkable results with Malaysia's youth teams.

He led Harimau Muda to gold at the 2011 SEA Games before guiding them to a historic berth in this year's AFC U-23 Championship, in which they beat Saudi Arabia 1-0 at the group stage before losing 2-1 to South Korea in the quarter-finals.

Ong said at the post-match press conference: "The South Korea fans in Indonesia have to thank Malaysia because if we were not leading, they would not have been able to see Son play on the field.

"Off the field, we know they are good... but we showed them no respect on the field.

"The players handled the defending very well in the last 10 minutes. The boys showed how they could achieve good results with determination and discipline.

"This a great result not just for the team, but also for the whole nation."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 18, 2018, with the headline 'Malaysia shock Son & Co'. Print Edition | Subscribe