Bookmark and Share
Buy Tickets

Safee boots up at the right time

He failed to manage a goal during the group stage but Safee Sali's timely strikes in the first legs of the semi-finals and final have put Malaysia within touching distance of their first AFF Suzuki Cup title.

And individual glory also beckons for the 26-year-old, who now leads the race for the tournament's Golden Boot with four goals.

It was an honour that was very much up for grabs after the group stage when no less than 13 players were tied for the lead with two goals. That list did not include Safee who had drawn a blank for Malaysia in their first two goals and was then sidelined by injury for the 5-1 rout of Laos which sent the Tigers through to the last four.

The Selangor striker had not managed a goal for his country since the last edition of the AFF Suzuki Cup in 2008 but he chose the perfect moment to end his drought when Malaysia faced defending champions Vietnam in the semi-finals.

There was a hint of fortune about his opening goal as Vietnam goalkeeper Bui Tan Truong allowed Safee's close-range header, off a free-kick by Safiq Rahim, to slip out of his hands and into the net.

But the Malaysian striker then showed his predatory instincts for his second goal, nipping in to tuck away a rebound after Tan Truong had stopped an effort by Safiq to make it 2-0.

That put him in a tie for first in the Golden Boot race although Indonesia's Cristian Gonzalez would edge ahead with three after the semi-finals.

However, Safee would leap-frog the Uruguay-born striker on Sunday with another well-taken brace against the Indonesians in the first leg of the final.

He happened to be the right man in the right place when he broke the deadlock in the 61st minute by side-footing home after some fine work on the right flank by Norshahrul Idlan.

And 12 minutes later, he sealed an impressive 3-0 win by rising above the Malaysian defence to meet Mahalli Jasuli's cross with a thumping header that gave goalkeeper Markus Harison no chance and put the Malaysians firmly in the driver's seat ahead of the return game in Jakarta on Wednesday.

As proud as he is of his exploits at this tournament, Safee has refused to get too carried away in his quest for individual glory at the expense of the team.

"Of course I would like to win the top scorer award but that is not the most important thing for me now," said Safee, who made his international debut as a 22-year-old in 2006.

"The most important thing is to help my team to win the AFF Suzuki Cup. I never target any individual awards for myself because I just want to help my team to win."

And with a sizeable advantage to take into the second leg, Safee firmly believes that his side could finally end their long wait for an AFF Suzuki Cup title.

"I am very confident we can get the result that we need in Jakarta. We will go there with a three-goal lead and we must finish what we started."