Malaysia opened their 2015 AFC Asian Cup qualification campaign with a difficult trip to the Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium in Doha. With 10 regular squad members unavailable, K. Rajagopal was forced to make seven changes from his teams last competitive fixture against Thailand in December, with Mahalli Jasuli, Fadhli Shas, Aidil Zafuan and Azamuddin Akil the only survivors. Indeed this was a relatively inexperienced line-up selected, with only five players who had played at least 20 matches for their country, and Jasuli named in an unfamiliar central-defensive midfield role.
As expected, the home team dominated the first half. Uruguayan born striker Sebastián Soria had the first effort with a near post header from Khalfan Ibrahim's left-wing free-kick, but keeper Khairul Fahmi gathered it at the second attempt. Soon after this forward Hassan Al Haidos took a long shot after Hamid Ismail's right wing cross was half cleared away, but it was always rising. Malaysia’s best opportunity of the half came in the 20th minute after good wing play by Akil, however Amri Yahyah was only able to steer his near post header wide of the target.
The pattern of the first half was very much the visitors letting Qatar have possession, but getting as many men as possible behind the ball, with Yahyah and Khyril Muhymeen frequently seen deep inside their own half. Despite their possession and territorial advantage, the home team were restricted to efforts from deep, namely from the lively Abdelkarim Hassan, who was in large part kept quiet by K. Reuben.
The Tigers were unable to effectively keep possession and this ended up costing them in the 54th minute. This time it was Akil who was guilty of surrendering possession too early, allowing Abdulaziz Hatem to break forward before he was bought down 30 yards out by Jasuli. Khalfan Ibrahim’s resulting free-kick was deflected off Fadhli Shas in the wall and spun beyond the helpless Fahmi. The unprofessional way in which the defensive wall came apart will no doubt have drove Rajagopal mad, causing his game plan to go up in smoke.
The goal boosted the Maroon’s of Qatar, who soon after came close to doubling their lead. Firstly, Ibrahim capitalised on more poor passing to pick up the ball and drive forward before firing over from the edge of the area. Then in the 58th minute, Al Haydos beat Jasuli on the left touchline and drove forward into the Malaysia area before trying a deft chip over Fahmi, however the keeper stood up well to it
In an effort to get back into the game, Rajagopal introduced Adbul Hari and Nor Farhan for the ineffective Ashari Samsuddin and Khyril Muhymeen, but it was Qatar who again threatened further. In the 64th minute Fadhli had to be alert to block off Khalfan Ibrahim as he bore down on goal. Following this the defence were unable to clear, allowing Sebastian Suria to bundle his way past Reuben and Aidil before he poked wide.
Malaysia’s best chance on the second half came in the 73rd minute. Substitute Hari was allowed a free header after getting on the end of Aidil’s terrific right-wing free-kick, however he was unable to find the target. With a minute of normal time remaining Aidil had chance to test the keeper with a free-kick from 35 yards out, but his effort was a poor one and it sailed high over the bar. The home team got the second goal their dominance deserved with a counter attack in the 93rd minute, the previously impressive K. Reuben was guilty of mis-kicking a clearance, allowing substitute Magid Mohammed to tee up Yusef Ahmed for a tap in.
With this defeat, the upcoming home clashes against Bahrain and Yemen become all important if Malaysia are to stand any chance of making it to Australia in 2015.