Southeast Asia Vietnam

Ghani’s the Hero as KL Made Viettel Pay the Penalty

Malaysia’s Kuala Lumpur City set up a rematch with Indonesia’s PSM Makassar in the 2022 AFC Cup ASEAN zonal final after the City Boys prevailed past Vietnam’s Viettel FC 6-5 on penalties after a goalless 120 minutes at the Thong Nhat Stadium on Wednesday night’s zonal semifinal.

Backed by a strong traveling contingent in Ho Chi Minh City – whose tickets and local transportation were paid for by the club management – Kuala Lumpur were fearless against a Viettel side who had swept everyone before them, winning all three of their group stage games and scoring 11 times to advance into the zonal semifinal.

Viettel predictably took command of the proceedings, having Kuala Lumpur at the backburner for the most of the match only for the Red Tornado to be left frustrated as they were unable to find a way past the City Boys’ disciplined backline.

Both Nguyen Duc Hoang Minh and Tran Ngoc Son tried their best in testing Azri Ghani in the Kuala Lumpur goal during the first half, however the two had their efforts going wide off-target.

Viettel goalkeeper Tran Nguyen Manh was then called into action after 33 minutes to deny Paulo Josue’s free-kick, before substitute Nham Manh Dung provided the first highlight of a slow second half with a 74th minute effort that was pushed away by Ghani.

Both Ghani and Nguyen Manh were quite busy in the final minutes of the second half as well as the ensuing extra-time and their heroics – combined with the profligacy of both teams – led to the scoreline remaining at 0-0 after 120 minutes.

In the subsequent penalty shootout, Irfan Zakaria had initially given Viettel some hope after he fired his penalty over the crossbar, thus allowing Ho Khac Ngoc’s successful penalty to give the Red Tornado a 2-1 lead in the shootout.

However, as the shootout was tied at 3-3 thanks to Romel Morales’ powerful spot kick, Tran Danh Trung struck the crossbar with his effort, with Kuala Lumpur seizing upon his miss with a sublime penalty from Giancarlo Gallifuoco that made it 4-3 to the City Boys.

After Muhammad Akram had made it 6-5 in Kuala Lumpur’s advantage, the onus was on Bui Duy Thuong to keep the shootout going for Viettel. However, Ghani had other ideas.

Ghani, who had been Kuala Lumpur’s backup goalkeeper, was promoted as the City Boys’ number one for the AFC Cup following rules regarding foreign players in the competition preventing Kuala Lumpur from registering their main goalkeeper, Kevin Ray Mendoza of the Philippines. But in Mendoza’s absence, former Kedah and Perak custodian Ghani has been in fine form for Kuala Lumpur, and he proved himself once again in the shootout, diving to the right to deny Duy Thuong and earning Kuala Lumpur a ticket to the zonal final.

In the zonal final, Kuala Lumpur will face-off against PSM at the KLFA Stadium in a repeat of an earlier encounter in the group stages, where the two sides played out a goalless stalemate in Cheras. The match will be played on August 24th, with the winners of the match advancing into the inter-zone semifinal where they will travel to India’s ATK Mohun Bagan on September 7th.