|FROM Shah Alam Stadium
By Khalis Rifhan
Laos were once the minnows of South East Asian football, but since coach Koichi Kimura took over last July, he has transformed the team to one that dares to go up against the big boys.
En route to the tournament proper, they had beaten Cambodia and Brunei before playing out a goalless draw against Myanmar.
Kicking off their AFF Suzuki Cup campaign with an impressive draw against Indonesia, they succumbed to a 4-1 defeat against co-hosts Malaysia.
In their last Group B game, they gave three-time AFF Cup winner Singapore a scare as they took a two-goal lead before defensive lapses allowed the Lions to get back in the game and take a 4-2 lead in the second half.
Midway through the latter stages, Laos reduced the deficit as they were awarded a penalty and Khampaeng Sayavutthi made no mistake form the spot.
“Today we played very good, I told my players to never give up against stronger opponents,"Kimura said while speaking to the media during the post-match conference.
"I'm proud with my team's achievements and overall performance in this tournament.
“We are aware that we are not as strong as the other competitors. But I think it would be good for our young players to gain some experience.”
Kimura was a frustrated man after being forced to make a substitution following a challenge on his goalkeeper, Sengphachan Bounthisanh by Fazrul Nawaz in the opening minutes of the game.
“First ten minutes, our goalkeeper, Sengpachan was injured. He had fractured his ankle and is now in the hospital. It was very dangerous play [by Fazrul Nawaz] and maybe it should have been a red card.”
But despite ending the tournament at the bottom of the table, Kimura predicts a bright future for Laotian football: “I'm sure with this kind of performance, our team has a bright future and we can do something better in the next SEA Games.”