KUALA LUMPUR: English Premier League outfit Liverpool were made to work hard before overcoming Malaysia 6-3 in a thrilling encounter at the National Stadium in Bukit Jalil yesterday.
An under-strength Liverpool took to the field without the likes of Steven Gerrard, Luis Suarez, Pepe Reina and Glen Johnson.
Also missing was manager Kenny Dalglish, leaving his assistant Steve Clarke to call the shots from the bench.
The Reds thought they were home and dry after building up a 4-1 lead by the 75th minute.
However, the never-say-die attitude of Datuk K. Rajagopal’s players saw the Tigers launch a spirited fightback to pull back to 3-4.
But the Reds had enough firepower in their tank to score two more goals late on for a comfortable win.
New signing Charlie Adam had put the Merseysiders ahead in the 25th minute. In a twice taken penalty, Adam sent national goalkeeper Sharbinee Allawee the wrong way both times to open the scoring for the Reds and send the 80,000-strong fans into a frenzy.
National skipper Shafiq Rahim brought out a bigger cheer from the crowd when he fired in the equaliser with a gem of a free-kick three minutes before the breather.
The Selangor player’s goal was a carbon copy of his strikes in both legs of the World Cup first round qualifiers against Taiwan last month.
But Liverpool made their hosts pay for some slack defending with substitute David Ngog scoring two goals in as many minutes midway through the second half.
Ngog’s first goal was a close range poke-in in the 67th minute, and he followed it up with a powerful blast from inside the area in the very next minute.
Malaysia seemed out of the contest when Argentine Maxi Rodriguez made it 4-1 for the Reds in the 75th minute, arriving at the far post to steer in the ball past substitute goalkeeper Khairul Fahmi Che Mat.
But Indonesia-based hitman Safee Sali, who had been on the pitch for just a few minutes, fired a brace to pull Malaysia back into the game.
Safee was the quickest to react when Liverpool custodian Martin Hansen spilled an Amirulhadi Zainal shot, steering it into the net in the 79th minute.
Two minutes later, Safee was again on target when he outpaced defender Conor Coady before coolly slotting the ball past Hansen.
But the Malaysians’ hopes of levelling the score were dashed when first Rodriguez, with his second strike in the match, and Dutch international Dirk Kuyt, scored to hand the English club victory.
Rajagopal said there was no shame in the defeat. “The referee’s decision to award an early penalty demoralised the team. But I am happy that the players bounced back.
“It was the best test to try out different combinations. Terengganu midfielder Ismail Faruqi was very cool and impressed me even though it was his first international match,” he said.
“I was also worried about fielding Safee in the last quarter of the game. He has just recovered from an injury, but passed the test with flying colours. To score three times against Liverpool will boost the morale of the team ahead of the Asian Zone World Cup second round qualifying match against Singapore (on July 23),” added Rajagopal.
Clarke praised Malaysia’s fighting spirit and had special praise for Shafiq and Safee.
“Malaysia made us work very hard. Credit to them for scoring three goals against us. It takes two sides to put up a good match. And I liked Malaysia’s No. 8 (Shafiq), who scored a stunning goal, and the No. 10 (Safee),” said Clarke.
“It was a good workout for us, but it is very early in the pre-season. We will be ready for the start of the season on Aug 13.”