Rajagobal: We could have won by more

Malaysia coach K. Rajagobal believes Wednesday's 4-1 AFF Suzuki Cup Group B win over Laos at the Bukit Jalil National Stadium flattered their opponents.

The Malaysia skipper celebrates his opener!

By Aysha Ridzuan in Kuala Lumpur

Aware that defeat to the Laotians would end their hopes of glory in Southeast Asia's premier international tournament, after last Sunday's 3-0 loss to Singapore, Harimau Malaya started the game brightly and took the lead in the 15th minute through a trademark Safiq Rahim freekick.

However, Safiq then gifted their opponents a goal seven minutes before halftime when he gave away possession in his own half, allowing Khonesavanh Sihavong to equalise with a deflected effort.

Nonetheless, the hosts eventually upped their game after the break and edged ahead in the 67th minute through Safee Sali, before wrapping up the win with late strikes from Wan Zack Haikal and Khyril Muhymeen Zambri.

Speaking after the game, Rajagobal expressed his satisfaction at picking up the three points, but believes his side could have won by a far greater margin.

"The players played how I wanted them to - with more aggression and a high-tempo game," he said. "We started well and in a very positive manner.

"In the first half, we could easily have scored four or five goals. The boys did very well today [Wednesday] and now I want them to look ahead and focus on the next game against Indonesia."

The ex-Malaysia international did however admit he was unhappy with the way they let Laos back into the game, but hailed the significance of Safee's strike, even though his striker missed a host of gilt-edge chances before finally hitting the target after a neat pass from Wan Zack.

"Laos played with commitment and their counterattacks were dangerous," Rajagobal added. "[But] the equaliser was a mistake from our captain Safiq.

"We dealt with it badly and conceded. When you take the lead, you've got to finish the game off.

"Safee's goal was crucial for us and also for him. We understand, as a striker, it's important for him to get goals and it's important that he scored the second goal, which motivated the team more."

Harimau Malaya now need a win their final group game against Merah Putih to guarantee their spot in the semi-finals and given how all four teams in the group can still qualify, Rajagobal believes it will be an enthralling evening on Saturday.

"I think this is the most exciting group in the Suzuki Cup," he declared. "Especially the matches on Saturday.

"We all want to win so it's going to be interesting."

Despite the comprehensive nature of the defeat, Laos coach Kokichi Kimura believed there were many positives for his young side to take.

"It was a fast game and our players ran out of stamina," he said. "The Malaysian players are strong and they are individually talented.

"Although we lost, I think Laos worked hard today [Wednesday]. We are a young squad and both our games [against Malaysia and Indonesia] were difficult but we showed a never-say-die attitude throughout the games."

The Japanese did concede his side's defending wasn't at its best on the night, but believes the tournament has been a good learning experience for them, even if they don't make it out of the group stage.

"I think our defence was a bit shaky today [Wednesday]," Kimura added. "They were slow to react.

"However, this tournament has given us a good experience."

Laos finish off their Group B campaign against Singapore at the Shah Alam Stadium on Saturday evening.



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