Malaysia’s Mohd Asrarudin Putra (right) and Singapore’s Navin Neil Vanu fight for the ball in their Group A match at the Gelora Bung Karno in Jakarta yesterday. — Picture by Osman Adnan
MALAYSIA did not have the look of champions as they laboured to a disappointing 0-0 draw against Singapore in the opening Sea Games Group A football match at the Gelora Bung Karno in Jakarta yesterday.
Despite fielding an attacking lineup featuring four strikers, no goals were on hand as the route to the last four became trickier ahead of tomorrow's match against Thailand.
Baddrol Bakhtiar was the main attacking outlet but A. Thamil Arasu, Syahrul Azwari Ibrahim and Ahmad Fakri Saarani -- the latter two on the flanks -- did not fashion a single chance between them.
"It is a problem in this age-group in our country where we do not have a big pool of strikers," said coach Ong Kim Swee after the game. "A natural scorer must have an instinct to be a goal-getter.
"Although we have a few strikers available, they are not sharp enough. Syahrul is only 18 and if you give him time, he will be a better striker."
The result has complicated Malaysia's bid to make the semi-finals with the team now needing to beat either Thailand or Indonesia, maybe even both, to keep alive their hopes of defending the gold medal.
"At least we have a point to start with. We've got three more matches to go and I believe we will progress well from one game to another.
"We did not play well in the first 20 minutes but after that, I thought we did well except to score," said Kim Swee.
They certainly did not have a goal to show in a dour and listless first half display with neither side able to get a grip on the game as Malaysia were limited to shooting from long range.
Singapore's Fazil Ayob looked threatening, going close with a volley in the third minute before testing Khairul Fahmi Che Mat with attempts in the 13th and 40th minutes.
Baddrol came closest to breaking the deadlock with a long range free-kick in the 24th minute which Singapore goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud tipped over.
The Malaysian skipper gave Izwan a scare 10 minutes later when his ferocious strike angled away from the top corner at the very last second.
The more offensive-minded Irfan Fazail came on for Abdul Shukur Jusoh for the start of the second half and although Malaysia saw more of the ball, they struggled to create chances.
Fandi Othman looked to have been tripped in the penalty box in the 70th minute but the referee waved away appeals for a spot-kick to Kim Swee's frustration.
"I can't comment on the decision but from where I stood, it looked like a penalty," he said.
Baddrol was denied again in the 75th minute when his free-kick was turned around the post by Izwan before watching his first-time effort in the 83rd minute flash just wide.
While Malaysia were disappointed with a draw, Singapore coach Slobodan Pavkovic was happy to pick up the point.
"We are not here just to play Malaysia. We have prepared tactically and psychologically to play all four teams in our group," said the Serb.
"This is one point gained. For us to play against the champions of the last Sea Games and get one point is okay."
MALAYSIA 0 SINGAPORE 0
INDONESIA 6 CAMBODIA 0
TIMOR LESTE 2 PHILIPPINES 1
LAOS 2 BRUNEI 2
Malaysia v Thailand (5pm), Cambodia v Singapore (8pm)
Both matches at Gelora Bung Karno
Myanmar v Brunei (5pm), Vietnam v Timor Leste (8pm)
Both matches at Lebak Bulus Stadium