Malaysia may well ponder what could have been after an all too similar defeat against tough Gulf opposition. Although the performance at times gave renewed hope that perhaps this fixture may have yielded a different result, once again Harimau Malaya were made to pay for their lack of attacking intent.
As expected, the Tigers lined up in a defensive 4-5-1 formation and for large periods of the game struggled to get bodies up in support of lone striker Norshahrul Idlan Talaha. If wingers Azamuddin Akil and S. Kunanlan were supposed to be the attacking outlets tasked with assisting Mat-Yo, then they both failed in their task, providing plenty of hardwork and willing running, but next to no quality on the ball or end product.
It seemed that a disciplined Malaysia team would be able to contain the surprisingly lackluster Reds of Bahrain, who enjoyed plenty of the ball but themselves created little in the way of clear cut chances.
Talisman Faouzi Aaish was one of the few bright spots in a dull first half, looking to be the only player capable of bringing excitement to the game, as he did with a 20 yard effort that was beaten away by Khairul Fahmi.
Malaysia were noticeably positioned extremely deep, attempting to get as many men behind the ball as possible before breaking quickly. As a result for much of the half, they offered zero attacking threat, with their first shot on target coming from Amri Yahyah in the 38thminute after Amiridzwan Taj had made a nuisance of himself from a corner.
The hosts only other efforts of the opening half came via long range efforts from Sayer Ahmed and Isa Ahmed Muthanna, but both were comfortable for Fahmi.
Despite their lack of ambition in the first period, the visitors grew into the game in the second half as Bahrain failed to stamp their dominance on the match. Amri Yahyah will have been disappointed that he did not open the scoring after the ball fell to him eight yards out following Ahmed Saleh’s terrible headed clearance, however his toe-poked effort was straight at keeper Mohamed Jaafar.
On the hour mark, Malaysia enjoyed their best move of the game as Mahali Jasuli and Norshahrul combined well to bring the ball forward, before Safiq Rahim floated a fine ball out to Amri on the left-wing. The forward cut inside well and tested Jaafar with an effort in which he could only turn over for a corner. Four minutes later and it was again Norshahrul and Jasuli who linked up, with the former able to burst into the box, but he dragged his effort wide of the post.
Maybe just as the visitors were starting to believe that they could get something out of this crucial game, they came unstuck through a poor individual error. While Khaled Mohammed’s through ball and Abdullatif’s finish were both admirable, Aidil Zafuan had to take blame for the goal as it was his missed interception which allowed the striker to get behind him and the goal in a poor lapse of concentration from the defender.
The Tigers, for so long set up with a defensive gameplan, struggled to create any chances of note in the remaining 20 minutes.
In fact it was Bahrain who looked more likely to add to their lead, first with an effort from Sami Al-Husaini after Fahmi had flapped at for a corner, and then a free header from the same player which could only hit the side netting.
So another discouraging loss for K. Rajagopal’s men, who are very close to missing out on the 2015 Asian Cup.
The manager wished to be judged on how his team performed in the Asian Cup qualifying campaign, but few of his critics will have had their minds changed after this groundhog result and performance.