Malaysia coach Dollah celebrates win over S'pore
(Khairul Amri 83)
(Safee Sali 61, Safiq Rahim 90+3 pen, Indra Mahayuddin 90+4)
It was a cheeky chuckle that preceded Dollah Salleh's answer to the most anticipated question on the night.
And the chuckle - accompanied by a broad grin - said much more than his two words.
The question: "Was it a penalty?"
His answer was hardly a surprise - "of course" - but his candid chuckle-and-grin combination hinted at a man who knew he was bailed out by a contentious refereeing decision that gave Malaysia a late get-out-of-jail card in a tense Group B fixture in the AFF Suzuki Cup last night.
Malaysia won 3-1 to qualify for the semi-finals at the expense of Singapore, but the result does not tell the story as well as Dollah's chuckle.
After taking the lead in the 61st minute through Safee Sali, the visitors conceded a goal with just seven minutes remaining, Khairul Amri pouncing on a rebound off a Safuwan Baharudin free-kick to score.
That result would have seen Singapore go through, and Malaysia booted out, but Omani referee Al Kaf Ahmed gave a 90th-minute penalty after Amri Yahyah tumbled over as he challenged Hafiz Abu Sujad for a header.
Safiq Rahim tucked it home, and as Singapore pressed for an equaliser -with goalkeeper Hassan Sunny going upfield for a corner - Malaysia broke, substitute Indra Putra passing into an empty net in the final minute of time added on.
Indeed, witnesses on pitch side saw Dollah turn away in annoyance after Amri failed to meet the cross - not appealing for a penalty - then turning around in celebration after he found out it was given.
"(The match) was a heart attack, thank god we won," said Dollah.
"It was a last-minute penalty, but based on the overall performance, I'm happy with the players, they never gave up.
"When Singapore equalised, I was worried - it was a cheap goal - I thought that's it, we're finished, but we never gave up."
His relief was evident, especially after failing to inspire the Malaysians since taking the reins of the team in the middle of the year.
"I've had four games as coach without a win," said the former Malaysian international whose team only managed a 0-0 draw with Myanmar, and a 3-2 loss to Thailand in their prior Group B fixtures.
"At least today we won, and are into the semis. I just want to celebrate."
The penalty that turned the tie in favour of Malaysia, was just one in a slew of contentious decisions made by the Omani referee, who appeared to get under the skin of both teams out on the field.
But Dollah had only one word when asked if the referee put in a good performance on the night.
"Yes," he said, in between chuckles.
When Singapore equalised, I was worried — it was a cheap goal — I thought that’s it, we’re finished, but we never gave up.
— Malaysian coach Dollah Salleh