Malaysia AFC U23 hopes hang in balance after defeat to Thailand
Lacklustre Malaysia were outclassed in Bangkok on Friday night as Thailand cruised to a 3-0 victory on Matchday 2 of the AFC U23 qualifiers.
A first-half double from Chenrop Sampaodi, and a late third from substitute Picha Autra, secured a vital three points for the Thais. Malaysia now have to beat Mongolia in the third and final match, while hoping other results go their way.
Datuk Ong Kim Swee's side rarely troubled the dominant hosts, who will be relieved to have put Wednesday's shock 1-1 draw with Mongolia behind them. Malaysia still have a chance of progressing, having beaten Indonesia 3-0 on Matchday 1, but their fate is no longer in their hands as victory for Thailand over the Indonesians on Sunday would see the Thais win the group.
After Mongolia capitulated to a 7-0 defeat to Indonesia in the afternoon, Harimau Malaya knew that a point against Thailand would put them in a very strong position to top the group.
In the early stages, it looked quite clear that the Malaysians' approach would be to frustrate the hosts by staying compact at the back, and looking to hit on the counter attack.
Some of the tackling was robust and Amirul Hisyam's trip on Chaiyawat Buran gave the Thais a free kick opportunity in the 18th minute. From around 30 yards out, Bangkok Glass midfielder Chaowat Veerachat's strike drifted harmlessly high and wide.
But the Thais began to dominate and took the lead in the 24th minute. Panudech Maiwong's cross from the right found Sasalak Haiprakhon, whose shot was brilliantly cleared off the line by Adib Zainudin. But the ball broke kindly for Chenrop who fired into the net from close range.
Chenrop almost added a second after Irfan Zakaria was caught out by a ball over the top. The Thai striker pounced and ran clear, but Amierul Hakimi dived bravely at his feet and clawed the ball away.
Malaysia found themselves two goals behind after losing their shape at the end of the first half.
Abid was beaten to the ball by Chenrop, who rolled it into the path of Chaiyawat Buran. The Chiang Rai United winger's effort was well blocked by Syahmi Safari, but the ball found its way back to Chenrop.
The striker's first effort was blocked, but he seized upon the loose ball and side-footed home at the second attempt to put the Thais firmly in control.
The Thais came close again in the 55th minute when an unmarked Shinnaphat Leeaoh side-footed wide from a corner when he should have hit the target.
But Malaysia finally created a half-chance in the 60th minute when Muhammad Syazwan fired over from 20 yards after the ball had broken to him from a corner.
Thailand added a third in the 86th minute when Malaysia were caught flat-footed at the back again, and Picha ran onto a ball from the left and side-footed home.
The 3-0 victory in no way flattered the Thais and Malaysia will have to lick their wounds and come back strongly against Mongolia on Sunday.
Bangkok-based Paul Murphy has lived in Asia for a decade, writing for ESPN FC since 2014. He is a former Daily Express sub-editor. @PaulMurphyBKK