SO defending champions Malaysia finished empty-ended in the SEA Games when they were beaten 2-1 by Singapore in Naypyitaw on Saturday.
The sad part is that the damage was already done in the semi-final against Indonesia on Thursday when Malaysia lost 4-3 on penalties after they were tied at 1-1 in extra-time.
The Malaysians could have booked a place in the final to have that chance of retaining the gold won two years ago if only they were more offensive minded against the Indonesians.
For that matter, Malaysia were not that impressive and lacked aggressiveness even in group matches against Brunei (won 2-0), Singapore (drew 1-1) and Vietnam (won 2-1).
In the other group match, Malaysia beat Laos 4-1.
It was a sorry campaign for the Malaysians, also known as the Young Tigers, in Naypyitaw.
Yes...Malaysia seemed to be lacking in aggressiveness and urgency as well and only woke up after being down like in the group matches against Vietnam and Singapore.
Midfielder D. Saarvindran scored the winner against Vietnam in stoppage time. Then against Singapore, it was Rozaimi Abdul Rahman's turn to strike the equaliser in stoppage time.
This was also the case in against Indonesia. This time it was Thamil Arasu who dramatically found the equaliser five minutes before the end to force the match into extra-time.
The defence, led by Fadhli Shas was rather suspect in Naypyitaw -- as evident even against minnows Brunei where the opponents could have at least scored twice if not for poor finishing.
This was this sorry pattern where the midfield was often a let down in the first half and could not really support the strikers in the hunt for goals in all matches played.
Another sad part was that why did coach Ong Kim Swee decide not to field talented midfielder Nazmi Faiz Mansor from the start? Yes...in the first 11.
Only Kim Swee can answer this.
Nazmi, time and time again, proved to be an asset in the attacking aspect via his superb passes and good vision.
Good example was against Indonesia in the semi-final. The Malaysians were having a poor game in the first half but things changed when Nazmi came on in the second.
And it was a smart thinking from Nazmi to send in a tricky low corner kick which resulted in the equaliser by Thamil.
It was a waste really to see Nazmi on the bench all the time. The 19-year-old could have contributed more if only he took the field from the start. He was one the most consistent players for Malaysia.
Captain Irfan Fazail was having a poor, poor game against Indonesia and did not contribute much but was still on the pitch.
Kim Swee should be brave enough and replaced him. Simple as that...never mind the fact he was the captain.
Then why the 'rotation system' employed by Kim Swee earlier in the campaign? Was it because of the tight schedules to give some players enough rest in between matches?
A team surely need their best players on the pitch - regardless of the opponents. A win should inspire them to raise their game for instance in a tournament like this.
After all, the Malaysians were one of the better-prepared teams in Myanmar.
One aspect which the Malaysians could be lauded, though, was the never-say-die attitude to try and make a comeback despite trailing.
But then again, they only made themselves in those kind of situations after poor start to the games.
Why torture yourself?
Another was the performance of midfielder Ashri Chuchu.
Anyway, it was good and refreshing to hear Kim Swee saying it was his fault the team failed to make the final.
Not many coaches would admit their mistakes or take the blame if things do not go well with their teams.
Some coaches will give same old excuses, for instance.
Overall, it was sad and sorry campaign for Malaysia in Nayphitaw. They had the abilities to, at least, make it to the final but ended up with nothing.
Thailand deserved to win the gold after beating Indonesia 1-0 in final on Saturday.
The Thais are back in business and Malaysia have to work real hard at this age level competition if they want to win back the gold.
If not, forget it.