Nobody could fault the national Olympic players for a lack of effort in Sunday's late collapse to Bahrain after a gruelling month in which they played eight matches in 21 days.
Expecting them to reach the high of the Sea Games triumph exactly a week ago against tougher and bigger Middle Eastern opponents might have been a bridge too far.
Yet, they gave it their all despite injuries and fatigue setting in although losing from a winning position in the final 10 minutes playing against 10 men is a bitter pill to swallow.
The Sea Games triumph came at a price, that of Olympic qualification, as the powers-that-be chose to bask in regional glory while forsaking advancement on the global stage.
Coach Ong Kim Swee put the Olympic qualifying defeats to Syria (2-0) and Bahrain (3-2) down to the lack of cover in midfield after an exhausting run of games.
"I had to field a player who had not played in four months because I had no more midfield players left," said Kim Swee, referring to Affize Faisal Mamat, who is usually deployed at left-back.
Injuries to Nazmi Faiz Mansor and Affize during the game against Bahrain proved to be the turning point as Kim Swee was forced to send on attacking midfielder Abdul Shukur Jusoh and striker Ferris Danial Mat Nasir in their place.
Malaysia also lacked the experience and calming influence usually provided by K. Gurusamy and Ahmad Fakri Saarani, who were both suspended.
Bahrain sliced through the exposed midfield and rattled in three goals in the space of five minutes to bury Malaysia's dreams of an appearance at the Olympics in London next year.
But even in defeat there remain some positives, not least the emergence of 17-year-old Nazmi as a talented playmaker in the mould of Azizol Abu Haniffa.
In addition to his intelligence, distribution, ball control and vision, Nazmi proved he has an eye for goal as well with a thundering strike against Bahrain, his first in national colours.
Following Nazmi's example, Kim Swee intends to blood more players into the side in Malaysia's remaining three games in Group C, which are largely academic as Malaysia are rooted at the bottom with no points.
"What we need now is a break," said Kim Swee, who is planning a tour of Australia for the team next month. "These players have given everything that they have got and it's time to forget football for a while.
"When we come back, we will concentrate on the three games we have left and I will make sure they learn something from those games."
Malaysia travel to Manama for the return leg against Bahrain on Feb 5, receive Japan at home on Feb 22 before wrapping up their fixtures against Syria at a neutral venue on March 14.