Malaysia’s perfect record at Asian Games 2018 was ended on Monday as they were beaten 3-2 by Bahrain at the Wibawa Mukti Stadium.
Syahmi Safari got the Young Tigers off to a perfect start with a 20th-minute opener, although a brace by Mohammed Al-Hardan and a Hamad Al-Shamsan header sealed a come-from-behind win for Bahrain before Safawi Rasid pulled one back late on.
Nonetheless, it failed to prevent Malaysia from finishing top of Group E, an outcome which had already been guaranteed another of Monday’s final round of group-stage matches.
Having sealed their place in the Round of 16 with a monumental 2-1 triumph over Korea Republic last time out, Malaysia coach Ong Kim Swee opted to rest a significant number of his key men and gave his fringe players a chance to impress.
But it was a man who had started the previous game against the South Koreans that got them up and running.
After Bahrain’s failure to clear their lines resulted in pinball in the box, a loose ball eventually fell to the edge of the box and Syahmi was on hand to hammer a blistering first-time drive past Ammar Ahmed.
However, a lapse in concentration from the Malaysians in the 33rd minute saw them give away possession outside their own area to Mohamed Marhoon.
The fleet-footed forward advanced into the box before squaring a pass to the unmarked Al-Hardan, who clinically found the back of the net for the equaliser.
Just four minutes later, Bahrain capitalised on more indecisive defending to take the lead; Al-Shamsan left unmarked inside the area to meet a corner and nod the ball past Ifwat Akmal.
The Bahrainis continued to look the more dangerous of the two sides after halftime and regularly carved apart the opposition defence only to be denied by the woodwork, as well as let down by some hesitant finishing.
Yet, a minute from time, Al-Hardan made sure of the win from a counterattack as he was played in down the right and sent a delicate chip over the onrushing Ifwat.
There was still time for more drama with Akhyar Rashid winning a penalty in injury-time for Malaysia after being tripped inside the box by Ahmed Bughammar, and Safawi Rasid made no mistake in sending Ahmed the wrong way from the spot.
In the end, the result did little to affect Malaysia’s final standing in Group E but also sent Bahrain through as one of the four-best third-placed teams, along with Korea Republic, who needed a 63rd-minute strike by Son Heung-min to beat Kyrgyz Republic 1-0.
MALAYSIA: Ifwat Akmal, Syahmi Safari, Adib Zainudin, Adam Nor Azlin (Rodney Akwensivie 65’), Syazwan Zaipol, Tommy Mawat, Nik Akif Syahiran, Baddrol Bakhtiar, Faisal Abdul Halim (Akhyar Rashid 58’), R. Kogileswaran (Safawi Rasid 78’), Hadi Fayyadh.
BAHRAIN: Ammar Ahmed, Hasan Yahya Ali, Ahmed Bughammar, Hamad Al-Shamsan, Hasan Al-Karani, Mohammed Al-Hardan, Abdulrahman Ahmadi, Jasim Al-Salama, Ahmed Sanad (Ahmed Al-Sherooqi 76’), Mohamed Marhoon (Sayed Ebrahim 90+3′), Sayed Hashim Isa (Abbas Al-Asfoor 82’).
Photo credit: Football Association of Malaysia