Malaysia's hope of reaching the 2019 Asian Cup finals were dealt a devastating blow after a meek 2-0 defeat to Hong Kong in Tuesday night's Group B qualifier. Throughout the 90 minutes, Malaysia never looked like gaining anything from the match and the final result justified the dominance Hong Kong had in the match.
Eduardo Vingada threw a surprise right from the kick-off, opting to start without a recognised striker in the line-up. Safiq Rahim was deployed as the furthest man forward while Syamer Kutty Abba was given his first full international start of his career. Compared with the home team who started with nine naturalised players.
The tactics from Malaysia's Portuguese coach meant that space and possession were conceded in the final third of the pitch, which allowed Hong Kong the impetus right from the start to attack Malaysia.
Xu Deshuai was first to test the Malaysian goal but saw his early effort just missed the far post, then Roberto Affonso's speculative pass from distance turned out to be heading towards goal and needed Hafizul Hakim to be alert to push the ball over the bar.
Malaysia's only notable chance came in the 27th minute of the first half when Safiq's corner kick found Francisco Insa free inside the box. However the Pahang midfielder failed to make a good contact with the ball despite being unmarked.
Hong Kong came closer and closer and in the 32nd minute, they struck the post through Jordi Tarres after he picked up a sloppy clearance from Khairul Helmi. Then disaster struck for Malaysia.
Safiq was cutting a frustrated figure up front with the lack of ball possession and his action in the 40th minute of the match saw a third Malaysian being sent off in two matches against Hong Kong. Having lost control of the ball, Safiq's foot made contact with the body of Daniel Rodriguez, leaving the referee with no choice but to show Safiq the red card.
Hong Kong took full opportunity of the disarray in the Malaysian ranks to take the lead just four minutes after Safiq's dismissal. Syamer conceded a silly free kick on the right hand side, the subsequent delivery was good and Tarres rose highest to head past Hafizul to give Hong Kong a 1-0 lead going into half time.
Vingada threw Darren Lok on at the start of the second half with Safawi Rasid being taken off. That substitution did little to change the momentum of the match as Hong Kong kept up the pressure on Malaysia.
It only took them four minutes from the restart to double their lead on the night. Xu was afforded time and space on the left to deliver a pinpoint cross for Jaimes McKee to head the second header of the night past Hafizul.
With a man less and two goals down, the Malaysian side looked deflated and out of ideas. Hong Kong eased off the intensity and the game went in a lull for a major part of the second half. The introduction of Wan Zack Haikal and Akram Mahinan for Baddrol Bakhtiar and Syamer did helped Malaysia to gain a foothold in the match but not to any detrimental impact to Hong Kong.
In the end, the two goals was enough to give Hong Kong the win and lift them up to second place, at least until the final whistle of the group's other match between Lebanon and North Korea. For the Malayan Tigers, it's the continuation of yet another disappointing result under Vingada's reign.
While not mathematically out of the running yet, this latest defeat puts Malaysia in a difficult position of needing to get wins in their last three matches against North Korea (twice) and Lebanon, just to cling onto the hope of reaching UAE2019.