MALAYSIA came back from two goals down to hold Asian champions South Korea to a 2-2 draw in a highly dramatic Azlan Shah Cup matc in Ipoh yesterday.
With seven players earning their first caps in this tournament, nobody would have expected Malaysia to hold an experienced Korean side but they did it with sheer determination, and great help from goalkeeper Hafizuddin Othman, who only earned his second cap yesterday, but was named as man-of-the match for his saves which kept Malaysia in the match until the second half fight-back.
Malaysia started on an unfortunate note as skipper and most experienced player on the field Azlan Misron went out for a nose bleed treatment, and the Koreans nailed the lead while he was out.
Defender Azlan, with 325 caps, took a nasty hit on the nose, and in his absense, the young Malaysian back-line collapsed and in the 10th minute, Oh Dae Keun perfected a one-two and scored.
Malaysia tried their best for the equaliser, but bungled at the final touch on numerous occassions, with experienced striker Tengku Ahmad Tajuddin missing the best chance in the 24th minute when he too a wild shot even though there was no pressure on him.
On the other side, Azlan Shah Cup debutant goalkeeper Hafizuddin Othman, 22, brought out a handful of super saves to keep Malaysia in the match as the clock ticked towards the half-time.
However, with five more minutes to the half-time, Oh Dae Keun nailed his brace when he connected home a cross and Malaysia went into the dressing with a mammoth task to salvage the game, as they only had one shot at goal and no penalty corner to show after 35 minutes.
The national players put up a brace front after the breather, but 50 minutes into the match, they still failed to find the break as Korean defenders made no mistakes in their own semi-cirle to award Malaysia a penalty corner or a clear shot at goal.
However, the fire was ignited in the 56th minute when Firtri Saari finally went solo and won Malaysia's first penalty corner. The corner was almost botched by poor stopping, but Shahril Saabah took it on his own accord to salvage it by scoring a reverse stick goal.
With 11 minutes remaining on the clock, the possibilities opened up for the young Malaysian side.
And they attacked like men on a mission, and finally got their act together to win the second penalty corner in the 65th and Faizal Saari nailed the equaliser with a high flick, and shared the spoils with mighty Korea.
Malaysian coach K. Dharmaraj was pleased with his youth power: "When we went into the dressing room 0-2 down, I told them we have nothing to lose and to start playing an attacking game as we have young legs to run down the Koreans and it worked.
"Against Canada, we will also be looking for a win as now we have a better chance of playing in the final now after holding Korea to a draw," said Dharmaraj.
Malaysia meet Canada today, and coach Anthony Farry said he was warry of the speedy Malaysians: "I was not around for the series (friendlies where Malaysian won 6-1, 5-1 and lost 5-4 to Canada in Malacca before the Azlan Shah Cup) but from what I have watched on video, they have great trapping skills and are very fast so I expect another tough match."
In another match, defending champions Australia cruised to a 6-0 victory over Canada to further consolidate their chances of lifting their eighth Azlan Shah Cup title since its inception in 1983.
The Aussie goals were scored by Glenn Simpson (10th), Jeremy Hayward (26th), Nicholas Budgeon (34th), Russlee Ford (46th), Jacob Whetton (53rd, 63rd).
RESULTS: Australia 6 Canada 0, Malaysia x South Korea 2.
P W D L F A Pts
AUSTRALIA 2 2 0 0 13 0 6
S KOREA 2 1 1 0 5 2 4
MALAYSIA 2 1 1 0 5 4 4
CHINA 2 1 0 1 5 7 3
S AFRICA 2 0 0 2 2 8 0
CANADA 2 0 0 2 0 9 0
TODAY: South Africa v Australia (4pm), China v South Korea (6pm), Malaysia v Canada (8pm).
March 18: REST DAY.
March 19: Canada v South Africa (6pm), Malaysia v China (8pm).
March 20: Canada v China (6pm), South Korea v Australia (8pm).
March 21: REST DAY.
March 22: Australia v Malaysia (6pm), South Africa v South Korea (8pm).