SHAH ALAM - Malaysia's hopes of qualifying to the 2015 Asian Cup Finals is no longer in their hands after going down 1-0 to Qatar in their penultimate Group D match at the Shah Alam Stadium Tuesday night.
Substitute Al Ali scored in the 64th minute to propel Qatar to the top of the group with 12 points to join Bahrain in the Finals in Australia.
Malaysia's only chance of qualifying for the Finals is to finish as the best third-placed team but even then it is virtually out of their reach. The Malaysians are now ranked only fourth among the hopefuls with four points while Iraq have six points in Group C followed by Lebanon on five points in Group B.
Syria also have four points but a better goal difference than Malaysia.
Malaysia's last match is against winless Yemen in March.
Needing a win last night, Malaysia coach Datuk K. Rajagopal fielded an offensive line-up. Safee Sali and Norshahrul Idlan Talaha were in attack with Amri Yahyah on the right flank.
The home side got off to a bright start and controlled the match. But they lacked the imagination to break through the Qatar defence.
Needing only a draw to reach the Finals, Qatar were happy to soak up the pressure and launched quick counter-attacks.
Malaysia's best chance in the first half came from skipper Mohd Safiq Rahim's free-kick in the 29th minute but Qatar goalkeeper Saad Al Sheeb spotted the danger and punched the ball away.
It was the same in the second half as Malaysia again continued to surge forward.
The Qataris then punished the Malaysians in the 64th minute. After a fast breakaway from defence, Al Ali finished off the move with an an easy tap-in.
Rajagopal responded by bringing in Nazrin Nawi, Mohd Nazmi Faiz Mansor and Azammudin Mohd Akil. But it was to no avail as Qatar held on for all three points.