Malaysia concede late equaliser to Timor-Leste in opening WC qualifier
A 93rd minute header by Timor-Leste defender Ramon Saro handed the tiny Southeast Asian nation a 1-1 draw with Malaysia in their 2018 World Cup qualifying fixture at the National Stadium in Bukit Jalil on Thursday night.
Safee Sali's first half strike seemed certain to give Harimau Malaysia all three points and an ideal start to the campaign, which doubles as qualifying for the 2019 AFC Asian Cup.
But Ramon's powerful header in the third minute of stoppage time knocked the stuffing out of the Malaysians, who had been desperate to start with a victory on home soil.
With matches against Asian powerhouses United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia to come later in the second round of qualifying in Group A, the Kuala Lumpur result is an early blow to Malaysia's hopes.
Coach Dollah Salleh's side had endured an unconvincing build-up to the match, thrashed 6-0 away to Oman in March before a toothless 0-0 draw in Saturday's warm-up game against Hong Kong.
Captain Safiq Rahim was at least back in the line-up following a suspension, while Safee was given the nod up-front after a lively performance from the bench against Hong Kong.
Dollah had admitted in the lead-up to the game he was "afraid" of Timor-Leste, as he knew very little about their squad.
He then had extra reason for concern as the team known as the Rising Sun nearly opened the scoring in just the second minute. Brazilian-born defender Diogo Rangel curled a free inches wide of the right post.
The home side were forced to wait until the 14th minute for their first meaningful sight of goal, Joseph Kalang Tie feeding the overlapping Amri Yahya, who slammed his shot into the side netting.
Malaysia soon started to dominate possession and Timor-Leste responded by lifting their physicality, landing some crunching tackles in an effort to unsettle the home side.
In the 25th minute, Amri should've done better when a defensive header landed at his feet, but he sprayed his shot well left of the target.
Patrick Fabiano, another Brazilian-born member of the Timor-Leste side, then had an ideal chance to put his team in front when he beat an offside trap and only had keeper Khairul Fahmi Che Mat to beat.
With time to pick his spot or round the keeper, Fabiano dragged his shot woefully wide in a fortunate escape for Malaysia.
The Rising Sun were then made to pay for that miss when the breakthrough arrived in the 34th minute, with the impressive Joseph heavily involved once more.
Indra Putra Mahayuddin's neat through ball found the Sarawak midfielder, who then crashed into the keeper and ended up on the turf.
But he swiftly regained his feet and possession to set-up Safee, who made no mistake with a crunching first-time strike that crashed in off the bar.
Fabiano had another glorious chance early in the second half, put through clear on goal by Junior Souza in the 51st minute. But his tame effort was aimed straight at Khairul Fahmi.
That had seemed Timor-Leste's best chance to share the spoils before Ramon's late, late header silenced a disappointing crowd announced as just 5,000.
Malaysia now host Palestine in another critical home match on Tuesday, while Timor-Leste take on UAE.