Third time is not the charm for Malaysia after they succumbed to a 1-0 defeat at the hands of Vietnam at My Dinh Stadium on Thursday. The joint 2022 World Cup and 2023 Asian Cup qualification match was reminiscent of the final played at the same venue between the two teams last year with the odd goal separating the two sides.
The hard facts are that Malaysia did not perform to what they were capable of, as was shown in the earlier two matches in Group G against Indonesia and United Arab Emirates. There was a lot of sloppiness in the performance which could be attributed to the state of the pitch in Hanoi.
Neither teams looked comfortable on the ball with Vietnam just slightly edging it with the cleverness of their play. Nguyen Quang Hai was the hero for The Golden Dragons with his strike in the 40th minute, sneaking in behind Shahrul Saad to flick the ball past a stranded Farizal Marlias.
Despite shading the ball possession percentage, Malaysia never looked like troubling Vietnam with Dang Van Lam having one of his easiest nights with coincidentally Shahrul coming the closest to putting Malaysia ahead in the 11th minute but he could only handled the ball when attempting to bundle in from close range.
Shahrul was however at the right place at the right time in the second half to deny substitute Nguyen Anh Duc from doubling Vietnam's lead, after Farizal had rushed off his line but failed to stop the home side's attack. One of only two real opportunities for Vietnam to score, of which they converted one and not the other.
Tan Cheng Hoe only made one substitution to change the match with Akhyar Rashid coming on for Norshahrul Idlan Talaha in the 56th minute with a second one late in the game because of an cramp suffered by Matthew Davies, with Syahmi Safari playing out the dying embers of the match.
This was a night where Malaysia could not find the combination play down the flanks that proved so effective in the previous matches. Park Hang-seo did his homework to close down Malaysia's flank-play with Mohamadou Sumareh and Safawi Rasid both struggled to beat their markers in Doan Van Hau and Nguyen Trong Hoang.
Yet despite the defeat, there is silver linings for Cheng Hoe and Malaysia. It is possible that Malaysia can stay in this rut of a performance in subsequent matches but the possibility of the team playing better is also considerable. If on a night where nothing went right and it was only a narrow defeat, there will be cause for optimism when Vietnam visit Kuala Lumpur.
But for now, it is two defeat in a row for Cheng Hoe and the opportunity to control their own destiny in the qualification is fast slipping out of their hands. The next two home fixtures at Bukit Jalil National Stadium against Thailand and Indonesia have immediately become a must-win matches.
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