A tired Malaysian side failed to stop Syria from collecting three points from their third round Olympic qualifying clash after losing 2-0 at the National Stadium, Bukit Jalil yesterday.
National under-23 coach Ong Kim Swee, however, praised the fighting spirit shown by his players despite the loss but admitted fatigue got the better of the team in the second half of the match after less than 48 hours playing in the Indonesia Sea Games final.
"They played well in the first-half and managed to match Syria but when they tired in the second-half they lost concentration and made mistakes which cost us the game," said Kim Swee.
"Better teams like Syria, or middle eastern teams in general, are very good at taking their chances and they (Syria) showed that tonight.
"I am proud of the boys who, despite still being tired, gave it their all and managed to keep the bigger Syrian players at bay during the first half. It was also tough for us as we were missing a number of key players today (yesterday),"
Syria coach Immad Eddin Khankan said capitalising on the Malaysians' fatigue was part of his game plan ahead of the match.
"We had studied them play before the match and also saw them against Indonesia. We knew they would be tired and it was part of our tactic to tire them out in the first half by letting them run more.
"We came out attacking in the second-half and focused on using the wings to create chances and it paid off for us as they were clearly winded," he added.
A drab opening half saw both sides struggle to keep possession and only resulted in a number of half-chances for both teams.
Striker Thamil Arasu had a chance to put Malaysia ahead in the 18th minute after he was threaded onto goal by Muhamad Nazmi Faiz Mansor but was quickly caught by the retreating Syrian defenders, whose larger physique generally made it hard for the Malaysian frontline to make an impact throughout the match.
Syria had a chance of their own in the 22nd minute when a free-kick from Mahmoud Al Mawas was cleared onto the path of midfielder Zakaria Al Omari whose resulting shot from just outside the penalty box was tipped wide by goalkeeper Khairul Fahmi Che Mat.
The visitors again had a chance to go ahead two minutes later when some loose passing from Malaysia saw Solaiman Solaiman test Khairul Fahmi from distance. Solaiman again tested Khairul Fahmi with a similar shot in 40th minute but was again denied by the Malaysian keeper.
The young tigers' best chance to score in the first half came just before the break when K. Gurusamy's header from a Mohamad Fandi Othman free-kick forced Syrian keeper Ibrahim Alma into tipping the ball wide.
Syria came out firing in the second half and did not take long to get on the scoreboard with Solaiman heading home from close range in the 51st minute after Malaysia failed to deal with a throw-in from the visitors.
The goal visibly boosted the Syrian's confidence and dominated possesion for the most of the second half. Clearly not happy to sit on their one goal lead, they continued to push forward and a mazy run from striker Al Suma opened up space for Mohamed Fares to test Khairul Fahmi from close range in the 62nd minute.
Chances for the Malaysian side were few and far between from then on and perhaps their best chance to equalise came in the 68th minute when a long pass from substitute D. Saarvindran put Wan Zack Haikal Wan Nor on goal only for the latter to handball under pressure.
Al Suma was again in the thick of the action in the 88th minute when he set up substitute Nassouh Nakkdahli to tap the ball in from close range to put the Syrian's 2-0 up and effectively place the match out of reach for the home side.
Malaysia will next face Bahrain in their next Olympic Qualifying group c match on Sunday at the National Stadium in Bukit Jalil.