By Gabriel Tan
Things were going according to plan at the Bukit Jalil National Stadium for Malaysia as they took the lead 15 minutes in when captain Safiq Rahim scored with a trademark freekick, but their opponents hit back nine minutes after the half-hour mark when Khonesavanh Sihavong netted with a deflected strike.
But after wasting a host of gilt-edged chances, the hosts finally reclaimed the lead in the 67th minute when Safee Sali netted from close range, before Wan Zack Haikal and Khyril Muhymeen Zambri netted in the final 14 minutes to make sure of the three points.
Entering the game aware that a loss would end his side's title hopes after their 3-0 loss to Singapore, Malaysia coach K. Rajagobal made four changes to his starting XI by dropping Bunyamin Umar, Amar Rohidan, Muhymeen and goalkeeper Khairul Fahmi, who paid for his error that gifted the Lions their second goal last Sunday.
Into the side came Mahalli Jasuli, Wan Zack, Shakir Shaari and Farizal Marlias, and the changes looked to have the desired effect early on as they looked extremely dangerous down the wings, with the former two in particular linking up well down the right.
However, it was a mistake the presented them with their first real opening in the 11th minute when a slack touch from Viengsavanh Sayyaboun handed Safee the ball on the edge of the area, but the Malaysia spearhead could only screw a left-footed effort wide.
A minute later, he had an even better opportunity when he was picked out inside the box after S. Kunanlan had broke free down the left and played the ball back across goal, only to shoot straight at Sengphachan Bounthisanh.
Still, there was to be no denying the hosts in the 15th minute when Norshahrul Idlan Talaha earned a freekick on the edge of the area, allowing Safiq to step up and curl a delightful strike into the top corner.
While Safee was continuing to misfire, his strike partner Norshahrul was looking extremely dangerous and sent a shot just narrowly wide after bursting down the right in the 29th minute, before latching onto a Kunanlan cross eight minutes later, only to have Ketsada Souksavanah steal the ball off him as he was about to pull the trigger.
Although Malaysia were looking good value for their lead, they were left stunned six minutes before the break as Laos equalised against the run of play after a sloppy pass from Safiq gave the ball straight to Khampheng Sayavutthi. The Khonkaen striker immediately switched the ball to the rampaging Khonesavanh, whose piledriver took a wicked deflection off Aidil Zafuan and looped over the hapless Farizal Marlias and into the net.
Ten minutes into the second half, the hosts nearly shot themselves in the foot for the second time when they allowed Soukaphone Vongchiengkham to dance through the middle and spread the ball to Keoviengpheth Lithideth, but Aidil was alert to the danger and halted the Laos forward in his tracks.
Nonetheless, Harimau Malaya continued to dominated proceedings but were threatening to waste all their good work with their profligacy, and another terrific chance went begging again in the 63rd minute when Safee sent a header wide from eight yards out after being picked out unmarked inside the area by Mahalli's pinpoint cross.
But their persistence finally paid off four minutes later when Safee finally got his goal, clipping the ball over the onrushing Sengphachan after Wan Zack broken fee down the right and played a neat ball to his striker.
Having finally reclaimed the lead, Malaysia then went in search of a third to wrap up the three points and Wan Zack, who had an excellent outing, duly got in on the act in the 76th minute when he escaped his marker's attentions at the back post and nodded home a Kunanlan delivery.
By now, the Laotians were looking completely deflated at the prospect of ending up with nothing for all their efforts and ten minutes from time, the rout was completed when Muhymeen sprung the opposition offside trap and raced towards goal before calmly prodding the ball past a hapless Sengphachan.
The hosts now head into their final group game against Indonesia aware that a win would guarantee them a place in the semi-finals.
Laos: Sengphachan Bounthisanh, Phattana Syvilay (Saynakhonevieng Phommapanya 75'), Ketsada Souksavanh, Viengsavanh Sayyaboun, Kovanh Namthavixay, Kanlaya Sysomvang, Soukaphone Vongchiengkham, Visay Phaphouvanin (Daoneua Siviengxay 70'), Keoviengpheth Lithideth, Khonesavanh Sihavong (Vilayout Sayyabounsou 54'), Khampheng Sayavutthi.
Malaysia: Farizal Marlias, Mahalli Jasuli, Aidil Zafuan, Fadhli Shas, Azmi Muslim (Zubir Azmi 46'), Wan Zack Haikal, Shakir Shaari, Safiq Rahim, S. Kunanlan, Norshahrul Idlan Talaha (Baddrol Bakhtiar 81'), Safee Sali (Khyril Muhymeen Zambri 77').
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