Malaysia were initially on course for a real upset but threw away a lead to lose 2-1 to United Arab Emirates in Tuesday’s 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifier at the Bukit Jalil National Stadium.
The Group G tie got off to an electrifying start as Harimau Malaya drew first blood with only 33 seconds on the clock.
Having patiently worked the ball out to the right, it was Matthew Davies who then swung in an excellent cross to the back post for a determined Syafiq Ahmad to get in ahead of his marker and head home.
But UAE were always going to respond after falling behind so early and they did equalised two minutes before halftime, as Mohammed Al-Menhali did well to chase down a long pass before it ran out of play and hang a ball into the area, where Ali Mabkhout met it with a bullet header that was too hot for Farizal Marlias to handle.
With a striker of Mabkhout’s quality to call on, the visitors always stood the better chance of snatching all three points.
And, right on cue, the Al Jazira marksman punished the Malaysia defence for one lapse in concentration in the 75th minute, reacting quickest after Khalid Eisa’s goalkick had bounced through to race towards goal and keep his nerve with a clinical finish.
Despite the defeat, there were plenty of positives for Malaysia coach Tan Cheng Hoe to take considering his side more than matched an opposition that reached the semi-finals of the AFC Asian Cup only back in January.
MALAYSIA: Farizal Marlias, Matthew Davies, Shahrul Saad, Adam Nor Azlin, La’Vere Corbin-Ong, Brendan Gan, Nor Azam Azih, Mohamadou Sumareh (Syamer Kutty Abba 66′), Syafiq Ahmad (Akhyar Rashid 77′), Safawi Rasid, Norshahrul Idlan Talaha (J. Partiban 61′).
UNITED ARAB EMIRATES: Khalid Eisa, Mohammed Al-Menhali, Khalifa Al-Hammadi, Mohammed Al-Attas, Walid Abbas, Ali Salmeen, Ahmed Barman, Khalil Ibrahim (Omar Abdulrahman 74′), Jassem Yaqoub (Majed Suroor 88′), Ali Saleh (Ismail Al-Hammadi 84′), Ali Mabkhout.
Photo credit: Football Association of Malaysia