A hat-trick from Safawi Rasid has helped Malaysia continue their perfect start at the 2020 AFF Suzuki Cup as they brushed aside Laos 4-0 at Bishan Stadium.

A first-half brace from Safawi set Harimau Malaya on their way before he grabbed a third two minutes after defender Shahrul Saad had also got on the scoresheet during the second half.

The win keeps Malaysia top of the Group B standings, with their coach, Tan Cheng Hoe, saying that it’s important not to get carried away whilst also paying tribute to Safawi.

“It was another great performance from the players and three points that gives us a moral boost but I still feel we need to be more composed at the start of the match to get the right rhythm and I’m hoping that will improve match by match," said Tan. 

“As for Safawi, I strongly believe he has a big talent and shows great discipline in training. He realises he’s an icon in Malaysian football and he needs to work hard to reach and keep this level.”

Laos made a lively start with left-back Nalongsit Chanhthalangsy forcing Khairul Fahmi into a smart save in the fifth minute before they were stung on the counter as Arif Aiman raced clear down the left and crossed for Safawi to tap home into an empty net to hand his nation a 1-0 lead in the 7th minute.

Malaysia came agonisingly close to doubling the lead just four minutes later as a corner from the left firstly saw Keo-Oudone Souvannasangso tip Muhammad Syafiq’s header onto the bar before the rebound saw a follow-up header from Aidil Zafuan that also clipped the bar.

Both teams continued to play quite open, attacking, football with Malaysia’s Luqman Hakim dragging an effort across the face of goal after being released by a fine pass from Aidil on the half hour before it was Harimau Malaya that extended the lead as Safawi headed a corner from the left back across goal and into the net to make it 2-0.

That was a lead that they would take into the break and Malaysia continued to chase a third in the second half where they had a string of good chances, most involving the dynamic Safawi, as a cross was just out of reach of the forward five minutes after the restart before he again failed to reach a cross, this time from Luqman, midway through the half.

Substitute Shahrel Fikri was at the centre of the action after his arrival as he firstly dragged an effort wide of the target in the 71st minute before then shooting straight at the keeper in a one-on-one situation and striking the post within the next couple of minutes.

After all those misses the third finally arrived from an unlikely source as central defender Shahrul was released by a delightful ball from Baddrol Bakhtiar to slot past Souvannasangso and make it 3-0 with 12 minutes to play. 

Safawi then completed his hat-trick – the first of the tournament – as he raced onto a lofted pass and fired home two minutes later to round out the comprehensive win.

Despite the heavy defeat it was a more attack-minded and positive approach from Laos and their coach, V. Selvaraj, said he was proud of the way the team adapted tactically.

“We started differently from the first game and of course player-to-player Malaysia are a different level to us, but I’m proud of how the players pushed themselves and were adventurous. We need to remember that this is a very young squad and it has been a good opportunity for them so we will learn and grow from this experience.”