SINGAPORE- Malaysian football is enduring some troubled times and the performance of their under-23 side at the Southeast Asian Games has failed to lift the mood.
A 1-0 loss to Thailand at a steamy Bishan Stadium in Singapore on Thursday left them all but out of contention for a place in the semi-finals of the biennial multi-sport Games for the 11-member bloc.
Following a 5-1 mauling by Vietnam on Tuesday, the Thai match was a must-win if they were to grab one of the two qualifying spots but Malaysia were mostly in defensive mode against the region's best.
A brilliant 81st minute low, fizzing strike by skipper Sarach Yooyen from the edge of the area finally ended Malaysia's resistance.
"Thailand and Vietnam are definitely on top of us at the moment," Malaysian coach Ong Kim Swee told reporters. "I said before the tournament, we have no stars only average players."
The expected departure marks a sorry tournament for the Malaysians, winners of the tournament in 2009 and 2011.
Their opening 1-0 win over East Timor was marred by a red card and a subsequent six-match ban for midfielder Mohd Nazmi Faiz Mansor after he was found guilty of spitting at an opponent. He was sent home by the team.
"Even in our opening game against Timor Leste, we did not look like a team capable of playing to win the gold medal," Malaysian chef de mission Seri Norza Zakaria was quoted as saying by local media on Thursday.
"The players must realise the high expectations heaped on football... 70 percent of the news written in the media back home is about football. So, Malaysians deserve better." Some Malaysian fans have already voiced their displeasure.
The Ultras Malaya supporters group lambasted the Football Association of Malaysia for arranging a lucrative friendly against English side Tottenham Hotspur prior to the SEA Games and not doing more for the under-23 side's preparations. .
Ong said three weeks with the under-23 side was not enough. "It's not a blaming game, we have to sit back and look at our programme. We cannot say (it was) only our preparation," he said.
Some from the SEA Games squad are likely to feature in the senior side when Malaysia kick-off their World Cup qualifying campaign next Thursday at home to East Timor in Kuala Lumpur.
A win is expected but little else after being pooled in a tough Group A which also features Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Palestine - three finalists at the Asian Cup in January.
Only the group winners are guaranteed a chance to advance. For Malaysia, ranked 162nd by FIFA, winning their own tournaments have proved a tough ask of late.
Singapore's Lions XII lifted the Malaysian FA Cup for the first time last month.