- By SHAMSHUL FITRI -
PETALING JAYA: National coach Datuk K. Rajagopal is proud of his men despite their 2-0 capitulation at the hands of Qatar in the 2015 Asian Cup qualifying match in Doha.
Goals by Khalfan Ibrahim in the 55th minute and Yusuf Ahmed in second-half injury time on Wednesday consigned Malaysia to a losing start in their bid to qualify for the Asian Cup Finals in Australia.
But Rajagopal felt that his men can walk with their heads held high after a “courageous” performance despite missing several key players with injuries and suspension.
Strikers Safee Sali and Norshahrul Idlan Talaha, winger S. Kunalan and midfielder K. Gurusamy are on the crock list while captain Safiq Rahim is suspended after being red-carded against Singapore in a World Cup qualifying match.
Rajagopal had to use rightback Mahali Jasuli as a holding midfielder while debutant K. Rueben took over at rightback.
Malaysia managed to thwart the hosts in the first half but just couldn’t match the Qataris’ speed after the break.
“I’m very proud of the boys because Qatar are such a strong team. Anyway, we had so many key players absent,” he said.
“I’d like to think that both the Qatar goals were lucky strikes. The first one was a deflected goal while their second came when we are pushing up for an equaliser.”
Rajagopal does have a point.
A freekick by Khalfan, the former Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Player of the Year, deflected off the defensive wall and sent goalkeeper Khairul Fahmi Che Mat the wrong way.
The second goal came off a quick counter attack after a failed Malaysian corner kick. A sloppy clearance by Rueben gifted the ball to Yusuf to slot home.
“What we can take from the match is the courage the players showed against the stronger Qatari side,” said Rajagopal.
Meanwhile, Bahrain beat Yemen 2-0 in Sharjah in another Group D match.
Malaysia will take on Yemen in their second group match at the Shah Alam Stadium on March 22.
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