Malaysia coach K. Rajagobal has praised his players for their stout defence of the AFF Suzuki Cup title and pointed to the dismassal of Fadhli Shas in the 2-0 loss to Thailand on Thursday as the turning point of their campaign.
The Harimau Malaya had absorbed attack after attack from Thailand in the first half of the semi-final second leg at Supachalasai Stadium before central defender Fadhli was sent off in the 44th minute after receiving a second yellow card.
“If we had all our players I am confident we would have had a good result and probably beaten Thailand,” said Rajagobal. “In the first half we absorbed all the attacks and frustrated them. The sending off was the change.”
A downhearted Fadhli echoed the view of his coach.
“It changed the course of the match. I think if the referee had not sent me off, the result would have been very different,” he told Malaysian media.
While admitting that the second yellow for Fadhli was probably justified, Rajagobal said that referee Lee Min-hu of Korea Republic could have kept the card in his pocket.
“He can make a decision to make it more interesting. He calls the shots. I do not think it was the right decision at that time of the game. (But) it was fair that the boy went,” he said.
“We absorbed all the attacks and frustrated them in the first half and that was the change. I was waiting for the right time to play (striker) Safee Sali but it did not happen (because of the sending off).”
The coach added that even with 10 men, Malaysia gave a good account of themselves but were undone by a bit of bad luck in the run up to Teerasil Dangda’s opening goal for Thailand in the 60th minute.
“Even though we were one player down we gave them a real good fight but then they got the first goal because of a miskick by Amar Rohidan, probably the field was uneven (at that spot),” he said.
“And then came the second and it was very difficult for us to come back but the boys tried very, very hard.
“For the second goal (from Theerathon Bunmathan) defenders did not go and protect the rebound. But the team has nothing to be shy off, the team played well and we gave a goal to Thailand and that was the scenario of the whole match.”
Rajagobal, who led Malaysia to their first ever AFF Suzuki Cup title two years ago when they beat Indonesia 4-2 on aggregate in the final, said that the defending champions should have done better than the 1-1 draw in the first leg in Kuala Lumpur which had handed Thailand an advantage because of the away goal rule.
“We should have won the first match but all the best for Thailand in the final,” he said.
He also bemoaned the loss of key players like Safee Sali, top scorer with five goals in the 2010 AFF Suzuki Cup, Wan Zack Haikal Wan Nor, Shakir Shaari and S. Kunanlan for crunch matches due to injury and added that overall he was not disappointed by their title defence.
“If you look back, we lost the first group match 3-0 to Singapore but then came back and ended up playing Thailand in the semi-finals,” he said.
“Honestly I am not disappointed. I lost five of my core players against Thailand - I am not giving an excuse, but Thailand had all their players available.
“We lost players, especially for the home game, like Safee Sali, Wan Zack and Shakir. Kunanlan missed the first game but came in for the second leg.
“The ones who came in, they gave their best shot. I am not disappointed - we have reached the semis and we have shown that Malaysia are not easily beaten. I have no fear meeting Thailand again in any situation,” he said.