|Tiến Linh takes off his shirt to celebrate as the whole Việt Trì stadium burst into joy after his only goal for Việt Nam. VNA/VNS Photo|
PHÚ THỌ — Việt Nam left it late, but managed to defeat Malaysia 1-0 after extra time tonight in Phú Thọ Province to advance to the SEA Games men’s football final.
Nguyễn Tiến Linh headed in the winner in the 110th minute to send Việt Nam U23s into Sunday’s final against bitter rivals Thailand.
While his charges were far from convincing against a dogged Malaysian side, coach Park Hang-seo won’t care as he stands one win away from defending the coveted SEA Games crown.
Park named his strongest side after resting several key players for the final match of the group stages against Timor Leste, with overage players Nguyễn Hoàng Đức, Linh and Đỗ Hùng Dũng all recalled.
Despite the raucous support from the home fans, Việt Nam struggled to impose themselves in the first half as both sides felt each other out.
The first decent chance fell to striker Tiến Linh in the 27th minute after he was slipped through on goal, but his shot drifted agonisingly wide of the goal.
Malaysia came close in the 39th minute via a deflection at a corner, but goalkeeper Nguyễn Văn Toàn got down sharply at his near post to smother the effort.
Three minutes later Việt Nam had two glorious chances to pull ahead, but Tiến Linh’s shot was saved by Malaysian goalkeeper Azri Ghani, and Nhâm Mạnh Dũng's effort on the rebound from a tight angle went wide.
The second half of normal time was markedly short on quality, with the biggest incident of note Việt Nam’s Lê Văn Xuân suffering what appeared to be a serious knee injury.
As extra time began both young sides appeared to be suffering from exhaustion after a grueling tournament, but it was the home side who were able to push through the pain.
In the 97th minute defender Bùi Hoàng Việt Anh should have scored for Việt Nam after the ball fell to him after a corner, but he poked his effort wide of the post.
It took until the second half of extra time, but Việt Nam’s winning goal was well worth the wait.
Captain Dũng curled in a free-kick delivery and Linh rose superbly to nod the ball home, redeeming himself after spurning earlier chances.
With Malaysia exhausted Việt Nam were able to ride out the final minutes with little drama and set up a showpiece final at My Dinh Stadium.
In the other semi-final earlier in the day in Nam Định Province, Thailand also needed extra time to defeat Indonesia by a goal to nil.
Weerathep Pomphan fired home a thunderous winner in the 94th minute to send his side through to the final as they attempt to claim their 17th gold medal.
Việt Nam will be gunning for their second ever gold in the decider on Sunday and it would take a brave man to bet against them riding home advantage all the way to victory. — VNS