MANILA: The men’s SEA Games football squad are coming home on the back of a dismal campaign, and to add salt to the wound, it came after suffering the ignominy of a 1-3 defeat to Cambodia, their first ever loss to the nation in the history of the biennial sporting event.
Ong Kim Swee’s under-23 squad went into the game at the Rizal Memorial Stadium with a mathematical chance of securing one of the top two spots in Group A and qualifying for the semifinal, but was still expected to defeat the less illustrious Cambodians.
Instead, the opposite happened. Cambodia’s victory, which took them to the semifinals along with Myanmar, seemed easy, simply because Malaysia, just like in their previous group A games, played a poor game bereft of ideas.
Entering the field on a must win mission, Kim Swee’s boys had a chance to take an early lead in the eighth minute, but national under-18 player Luqman Hakim Shamsudin’s shot was blocked in time by the Cambodian defence.
The Malaysians wasted another great chance after Nik Akif Syahiran Nik Mat’s free kick from just outside the Cambodians’ penalty box sailed past the bar.
The Cambodians picked up the pace from then on, and was duly rewarded for their persistence in the 56th minute via a In Sodavid goal off a corner kick.
Malaysia was not even given enough time to recover after Cambodia scored their second just two minutes later through Sieng Chanthea, before Keo Sokpheng made it an uphill task for the Malaysians by scoring his team’s third in the 68th minute.
Stunned, Kim’s Swee’s boys organised their play, and scored a consolation goal through substitute Quentan Chang in the 89th minute, but the fightback came a little too late.
In another Group A match, hosts Philippines thrashed Timor Leste at the Binan football stadium.
Malaysia ended their campaign after the four group games in fourth place with four points behind Myanmar, who topped the group, Cambodia, and the Philippines. Timor Leste ended up bottom of the table.
Malaysia began their campaign with a 1-1 draw against Myanmar, before losing 0-1 to the host nation, and bouncing back to defeat Timor Leste 4-0.
The poor campaign was a repeat of the 1991 edition, also in the Philippines, when the national team fell to a shock 0-1 loss to the host nation in the group stage that also sent them home.
Malaysia last won a SEA Games gold in 2011 in Indonesia, with the team being under Kim Swee’s charge then, while in the last edition on home soil, Malaysia had to contend with the silver medal after losing to Thailand in the final. - Bernama