Malaysia's hopes of making it to the 2014 World Cup final was dealt a fatal blow when Singapore won their second round Asian Zone World Cup Qualifier 6-4 on aggregate after a 1-1 draw at the National Stadium in Bukit Jalil Thursday night.
Singapore who beat Malaysia 5-3 in their second round, first leg match at the Jalan Besar Stadium in Singapore on Saturday, came from behind to cancel out a Mohd Safee Sali goal in the 57th minute that had momentarily revived Malaysia's hopes.
Malaysia, leading 1-0 and eager to score a second goal that would have earned them a ticket to the next stage, left gapping holes in the defence and that lapse was exploited by Shi Jiayi in the 72nd minute to give the all important equaliser.
The loss was a bitter pill to swallow for the more than 90,000 fans who had flocked to the stadium, hoping to boost the confidence of the players, to overturn a two-goal deficit from the first leg.
Unlike the first leg which saw eight goals scored, the second leg today saw both teams playing more cautiously and relying on counter attacks.
Though the entire nation was solidly behind Datuk K. Rajagobal's boys, there was little they could do against a Singapore side that paraded a number of foreign players who have since become 'Singaporeans'.
Riding on the nationalistic fervour, Malaysia went on the offensive right from the start but time and again came up against a stout Singaporean wall marshaled by seasoned campaigner Daniel Bennet.
Even the presence of Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin and a number of cabinet ministers at the stadium, especially Youth and Sports Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Shabery Cheek and Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein, failed to lift the gloom.
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak who watched the match live on a large screen in Kedah, gave the thumbs up to the Malaysian players despite bowing out of the 2014 World Cup Qualifier to Singapore.
"The players gave a spirited display and I am proud of their determination and fighting spirit," said Najib who was on a one day official visit to Kedah.
National coach Datuk K. Rajagobal lamented on the lack of aggression in the first half and the loss in concentration of his defenders, that led to the Singapore goal in the 72nd minute.
"We have to work hard to lift our standard a notch higher and minimize mistakes to stand out and be counted among the football powers.
"The players need to be physically and mentally prepared to face any challenges, equipped with better skills, commitment and dedication," he said.
Meanwhile, Singapore head coach, Radojko Avramovic said he was glad that his players had achieved the goals to advance into the third round of the 2014 World Cup qualifier.
"Key to the success was my players showing good discipline and played well. This is not our first time playing in front of a huge crowd. We have a lot of experience and had no fear playing in front of the Malaysian supporters," he said.