A calamitous five-minute spell was all it took to ruin Malaysia's hard work and shatter their Olympic dream as 10-man Bahrain staged a miraculous comeback from two goals down to win 3-2 at the National Stadium in Bukit Jalil yesterday.
Coach Ong Kim Swee could only watch helplessly as his side were slaughtered with just 10 minutes to go by a side roused by the red card to Fahad Tareq Showaiter in the 61st minute.
Having done so well to go 2-0 up, injuries during the game to goalscorer Nazmi Faiz Mansor, Affize Faisal Mamat and Irfan Fazail left Malaysia short-handed in midfield, allowing Bahrain to tear through the heart of the Malaysian side.
"I don't know what to say. In five minutes, everything changed. We did not have enough midfield replacements after Affize went off injured and Nazmi suffered cramps while Irfan carried on with injury till the end.
"We lost control of the midfield and allowed Bahrain to move with ease. We paid a very high price and the work which went into scoring our two goals was wasted just like that," said Kim Swee after a third straight defeat which leaves Malaysia bottom of Group C and with little chance of progressing to the playoffs.
With K. Gurusamy and Ahmad Fakri Saarani suspended, Kim Swee put regular left-back Affize in the defensive midfield role while Irfan Fazail and Fadhli Shas returned from injury.
Nazmi did well in his free role behind striker A. Thamil Arasu as Malaysia began smartly and it was the pint-sized 17-year-old who opened the scoring with a breathtaking strike from 30 metres out in the 30th minute.
Following Showaiter's dismissal by Uzbek referee Valentin Kovalenko for a studs-first challenge on Affize, Mahalli Jasuli added the second after an error by Bahrain goalkeeper Ashraf Waheed Al Sebaie in the 68th minute.
Then began the Bahrain fight-back as Saad Salah Al Amer's overhead kick reduced the deficit to 2-1 in the 81st minute before fellow substitute Isa Ahmed Muthanha hammered in a free-kick in the 85th minute and the winner a minute later as the Malaysian defence was stretched to breaking point.
"After going 2-0 down and losing a player to a red card, I had to make some changes," said Bahrain coach Salman Sherida.
"I sent in two attacking players and took out our defensive players to try to come back into the game.
"If we could score one goal, we can put them under-pressure. Malaysia is a good team but you need full concentration until the final whistle. When we scored the first goal, Malaysia were afraid to draw and stopped attacking.
"It was not an easy game but we are happy to have won."
Malaysia's next match is against Bahrain in Manama on Feb 5 next year ahead of group leaders Japan's visit to Kuala Lumpur on Feb 22.