Thailand secured their record-equalling fourth AFF title after a 12-year drought by prevailing against a spirited Malaysia side in the second leg of the Suzuki Cup final in Kuala Lumpur.
After winning Wednesday’s first leg 2-0 in Bangkok, the Thais lost 3-2 on Saturday night at the Bukit Jalil National Stadium. But they edged the final 4-3 on aggregate, after scoring two late, away goals.
The War Elephants’ first Southeast Asian title since 2002 sees them tie Singapore for the record of most AFF crowns. It also means that coach Kiatisuk Senamuang has become the first man to win tournament as both a player and manager.
In front of a capacity crowd of more than 95,000 fans, Malaysia made the best possible start when they won a penalty within the first five minutes.
Striker Norshahrul Talaha was brought down in the box by Thai defender Suttinan Phuk-Hom. Although it appeared like minimal contact, the Iranian referee had no hesitation in pointing to the spot.
Safiq Rahim coolly converted his fourth penalty of the tournament to give Malaysia a 1-0 lead in the seventh minute, to trail 2-1 on aggregate.
Sixty seconds later, there was more activity in the Thailand penalty area as midfielder Azamuddin Akil lunged at the ball only to collide with Thai goalkeeper Kawin Thamsatchanan.
Akil was injured in the exchange and had to leave the field. Coach Dollah Salleh injected veteran forward Safee Sali into the game as Malaysia went on all-out attack.
Thailand slowly found their groove and started to put pressure on the Malaysian defence.
In the 13th minute, lively fullback Peerapat Notechaiya hit the post with his long range effort and the partisan crowd breathed a sigh of relief.
In trying to keep the Thais quiet, several Malaysian players picked up yellow cards. Mohammed Afif Amiruddin (20th), Amri Yahyah (27th) and Indra Putra Mahayuddin (30th) were all left walking a disciplinary tightrope.
Krirkrit Thaweekarn had three shots in the first half, including a stinging effort that bounced awkwardly in front of Malaysian goalkeeper Mohd Marlias and a left footed blast that went wide after the cross from Suttinan.
In the 40th minute, Norshahrul almost doubled Malaysia’s lead when he turned in the box and fired off a shot after some good lead up work by Safiq.
Four minutes later, Thailand striker Kraisorn Adisak was booked for time wasting after going to ground following a tackle.
On the stroke of half-time, Malaysia grabbed the second goal they so desperately needed, to make the final level at 2-2 on aggregate.
Thailand failed to deal with a cross from the right from Norshahrul and veteran Indra Putra Mahayuddin rose high to head the ball into the back of the net to send the National Stadium into raptures with Malaysia ahead 2-0 on the night.
The scoreline seemed unkind to Thailand who had more than their fair share of possession and chances.
After the break, they looked for the vital, away goal that would swing the final back in their favour. In the 48th minute, Krirkrit Thaweekarn found space in the box but his shot was blocked by wing back S. Kunalan.
Malaysia did well to soak up the pressure and frustrate the visitors.
And then on the counter, they earned a free kick on the edge of the area after a Safee Sali pass released Norshahrul, who was clumsily fouled by Suttinan.
Dead ball specialist Safiq produced another pearl of a set piece as his free kick curled into the left corner, beating the sprawling Kawin. After 58 minutes, the home side were 3-0 ahead on the night, 3-2 on aggregate, and seemingly on course for glory.
The momentum was with Malaysia, but Thailand knew that all they needed was an away goal to quieten the crowd.
In the 68th minute, Kraisorn’s dangerous shot from the edge of the area was deflected behind off Afif for a corner.
Malaysia were shown yet another yellow card when Norshahrul was booked in the 75th minute. And then five minutes later, Norshahrul conceded a crucial free kick on the edge of the area.
The Thai free kick by Sarach Yooyen was parried by Mohd Marlias. Charyl Chappuis followed up to tap the ball into the net in the 81st minute to tie it up at 3-3 on aggregate, putting the visitors ahead on away goals.
Thailand made sure of it with a stunning individual effort by Chanathip Songkrasin — nicknamed Messi Jay — in the 87th minute to break the hearts of the Malaysian fans. Chanathip would be later named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.
It was scant consolation that Malaysia preserved their unbeaten home record in competitive matches against Thailand, dating back to 1971, with the 3-2 win on the night. It also secured their first victory in the 2014 tournament over Kiatisuk’s side after two previous losses.
Malaysia had come so close to claiming their second AFF title, to go with the inaugural trophy that Dato K. Rajagobal won in 2010. But they can be proud of their efforts, having defeated Singapore, Vietnam and the Thais in the course of the month-long tournament.