Malaysia save their best for last to claim monumental draw against powerhouses South Korea

Romel Morales scored a dramatic equaliser in the 15th minute of injury-time to earn Malaysia a monumental 3-3 draw with South Korea to ensure they would be departing from the 2023 AFC Asian Cup with their heads held high. HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP via Getty Images

They were already eliminated from the 2023 AFC Asian Cup ahead of Thursday's final set of Group E fixtures, so there was little for Malaysia to play for put pride.

But they certainly made sure they would be leaving the tournament with their heads held high after a stirring display -- which culminated with an equaliser in the 15th minute of injury-time -- saw them hold powerhouses South Korea to a thrilling 3-3 draw.

Even with their fate already secured ahead of kickoff, Malaysia still had the power to influence the destiny of others.

They did just that as the draw meant that South Korea would finish second in Group E behind Bahrain, although the result might still sit well with the former given they have now avoided a heavyweight clash with Japan in the round of 16.

For Malaysia, they will at least know that -- with this result alone -- they have given an excellent account of themselves on their return to the continent's biggest stage for the first time since 2007.

Prior to Thursday, it was shaping up to be an overall disappointing campaign for Harimau Malaya after a humbling 4-0 thrashing at the hands of Jordan was followed by a heartbreaking 1-0 defeat to Bahrain, where they held out so well before conceding in the 95th minute.

It initially looked like another comprehensive defeat was on the cards when South Korea took the lead after 21 minutes through a Jeong Woo-Yeong header, which had to be confirmed by VAR review after a superb but ultimately futile attempt by Malaysia goalkeeper Syihan Hazmi to prevent the ball from crossing the line.

Still, the Malaysians came out for the second half with renewed vigour and would duly equalise six minutes after the restart, despite it originally seeming like they were trying their best not to score.

A couple of fluffed efforts at getting a shot away eventually saw the ball break to Faisal Abdul Halim but, from an acute angle with everyone assuming a cutback was on the cards, the winger proceeded to produce a moment of genius by clipping the ball back towards goal to catch opposition goalkeeper Jo Hyeon-Woo by surprise.

Two minutes after the hour mark, Malaysia were incredible leading -- as Arif Aiman picked himself up after being fouled inside the area to drill an unstoppable penalty into the bottom corner.

South Korea were never going to take a potentially humiliating defeat lying down and would find an equaliser of their own in the 83rd minute, when a superb freekick by Lee Kang-In came back off the bar and ricocheted in off the hand of an unfortunate Syihan.

Then, when South Korea were awarded a spotkick of their own that was confidently dispatched by Son Heung-Min, it did seem as though the Malaysians would come up just short with nothing to show for their brave efforts.

Yet, on a day when they had done so well to take the fight to their more-illustrious opponents, they would not be denied.

With the contest into a staggering 105th minute, Malaysia substitute Romel Morales found space on the edge of the box and fired away a shot that had just enough pace and precision to beat Jo.

Moments later, when the final whistle blew, there was relief, joy and satisfaction on the faces of all in the Malaysia camp, including their elated coach Kim Pan-Gon -- who had just pulled off a remarkable result against his nation of birth.

Even with just a draw, there were even tears for some of the Malaysia faithful, who had never stopped cheering their heroes on in spite of their previous tribulations.

As Malaysia bowed out of the Asian Cup on Thursday, they certainly did so with plenty pride having saved their best performance for last.