SHAH ALAM: Scintillating Malaysia were held to a frustrating 2-2 draw against China in their final Group J match of the 2020 Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Under-23 (U-23) qualifying round, Tuesday night.

It was Jiang Shen’s header in the 83rd minute that denied the more than 20,000 home fans’ hope to see their favourites qualify automatically into the final round in Bangkok, next year, as group champions.

In the match at the Shah Alam Stadium, here, master coach Guus Hiddink’s side started the game very well but it was Malaysia who broke the deadlock in the 10th minute after Yang Liyu landed the ball into his own net following Muhammad Syahmi Safari’s shot.

Malaysia’s Dominic Tan (left) vies for the ball with China’s Yang Liyu in their final Group J match of the 2020 Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Under-23 qualifying round at the Shah Alam Stadium in Shah Alam on Tuesday night. Photo: Bernama

Six minutes later, the “Great Wall” pulled a goal back through Zhang Yuning’s header to make it level until half time.

Midfielder, Muhammad Danial Haqim put Malaysia back in front in the 54th minute after calmly tapping the ball into the net when goalkeeper Chen Wei failed to stop Nik Akif Syahiran’s corner.

China then could have had more goals as goalkeeper Muhammad Haziq Nadzli was forced to stop efforts from the opponent’s marauders.

Tuesday night’s result saw Malaysia end the qualifying round as runners-up, sharing seven points with China, who had better goal difference to be group champions.

Malaysia’s fate now depended on other groups’ final match results by Wednesday morning as only the best five runner-up teams will be joining 11 other teams in the final round.   

Speaking to reporters after the match, Malaysia’s coach Datuk Ong Kim Swee admitted it was a disappointing result as his side wasted golden opportunities to progress to the final round automatically.

“Now whether we qualify or not is uncertain because we have to wait for the results of the other groups. However, the boys stuck to the game plan except that the last seven minutes did not work in our favour,” he said, adding that he hoped luck would favour Malaysia  (to qualify for the final round).

Meanwhile, Hiddink praised both teams for putting up a good display until the end of the game.

“We witnessed a good game of real intense football. Two teams who like to play football, who want to go for the victory, but calculating, the draw was enough.

“Like what I said before, Malaysia have very good skilful individual players and they know how to play very well. So it was a tough game for us,” he said. – Bernama