Malaysia made a positive start to the third round of their 2023 AFC Asian Cup qualifying as they beat Turkmenistan 3-1 at the Bukit Jalil National Stadium on Wednesday.

The Harimau Malaya, who ranked 20 rungs lower than their Central Asian opponents, blitzed to a 2-0 lead in the Group E encounter within the first 16 minutes thanks to Safawi Rasid and Faisal Halim.

Johor Darul Ta'zim (JDT) star Arif Aiman Hanapi played a key role in both goals as his cross in the 11th minute was palmed by the Turkmenistan goalkeeper directly to Safawi to tap it home, and five minutes later he won the ball inside the opposition penalty area to allow Faisal to get on the scoresheet.

With the two-goal advantage, Kim Pan-gon's side looked comfortable for the majority of the first half but a combination of errors at the back in the 37th minute allowed the Karakum Warriors to half the deficit through Altymyrat Annadurdyyew.

However, La'Vere Corbin-Ong restored Malaysia's advantage in the first-half injury time as the JDT defender launched a solo counter-attack and squeezed the ball past the goalkeeper.

In the second half, Turkmenistan dominated the ball possession and goal-scoring chances, but the Tigers hung on to bag an important win in their quest to qualify for the AFC Asian Cup for the first time since co-hosting it in 2007.

Malaysia next take on Bahrain, who defeated Bangladesh 2-0 in an earlier Group E match, on Saturday.