Malaysia on the way out after second defeat
Coach Ong concedes Thais and Vietnamese are all but out of reach
(Sarach Yooyen 81)
Not even 48 hours had passed since their demoralising 5-1 thrashing by Vietnam, but Malaysia had to take to the pitch to face reigning champions Thailand in a South-east Asia (SEA) Group B clash yesterday.
It was the third game for the Malaysian Under-23s in just five days, and they had to play in the sweltering 4pm heat at the Bishan Stadium.
Ong Kim Swee's men gave everything they had left in the tank, huffing and puffing as the Thais tried to work their usual magic.
A tense and tactical match that saw the Thais run out 1-0 victors.
The result left Malaysia on the brink of a first-round exit, after Vietnam consolidated their hold on the second and final qualifying spot for the semi-finals with a 1-0 win over Laos, making it three wins out of three, just like Thailand.
Speaking at the post-match press conference last night, Malaysia coach Ong Kim Swee said: "It's hard. Very hard. It's not ideal to have to play a match in such hot conditions with less than two days' rest.
"I'm not going to talk too much about this, but it's not ideal.
"It's unfortunate, really."
Malaysia got the first chance when Nurridzuan Abu Hassan played in captain Gary Robbat, but the midfield hardman scuffed his shot with only the goalkeeper to beat.
Thailand then took control, with the mercurial Chanathip Songkrasin dribbling past three Malaysian defenders to release Rungrath Poomchanteuk, whose shot was directed straight at goalkeeper Farhan Abu Bakar.
Further wasteful finishing helped Malaysia to just hang on, but their luck ran out in the 81st minute.
Substitute Tristan Do released his captain Sarach Yooyen, who lashed the ball into the bottom corner from just outside the box.
By then, Malaysia, already physically spent, had no answer, slipping to their second defeat in as many matches.
Ong, however, was quick to praise his side's conquerors.
"I have to admit that Thailand were by far the better team," said the 44-year-old.
"They had plenty of chances and their players were very good. You have to congratulate them for that.
"But, honestly, despite our fewer chances, we were wasteful ourselves.
"You look at the chance in the first half. If Gary had scored, the result might have been different... But everyone knows that Thailand are the team to beat."
Thailand coach Chokewatee Promrut breathed a sigh of relief at the end of the game.
"The goal was a long time coming," he said.
"It helped us relax, because we were getting a little restless with all the missed chances.
"It came as a surprise, but it was a pleasant surprise.
"It was a very important win for us. Three wins out of three, it doesn't get any better than that."
I have to admit that Thailand were by far the better team. They had plenty of chances and their players were very good. You have to congratulate them for that.
— Malaysia coach Ong Kim Swee