Defending champions Malaysia struggled to get past Brunei 2-0 in their SEA Games football competition opener yesterday as Singapore blew Group A open with a 1-0 win over Vietnam.
Vietnam were flying high after waltzing past Brunei 7-0 in Sunday's competition opener but Sahil Suhaimi's goal at the stroke of half-time sent the Vietnamese crashing back to earth in the Under-23 tournament yesterday.
Singapore now top Group A with four points from their opening two matches after drawing their first 1-1 with Laos on Sunday, with Vietnam second and Malaysia third.
Brunei, who are at the bottom of the five-team table, were always going to be the underdogs against Harimau Muda yesterday, but unlike national coach Kwon Oh Son predicted, Malaysia were not as deadly in front of goal as Vietnam - who also beat Brunei 8-0 the previous time the teams met at the 2011 SEA Games.
Malaysian striker Mohd Rozaimi Abdul Rahman put his team ahead just past the hour mark after receiving a ball over the top and slotting it home at the far post, but despite dominating possession, the titleholders were unable to find a way past Ak Omar Aqamuddin Pg Sallehuddin - who produced several top-class saves, the best coming in injury time when he denied Malaysian captain Mohd Irfan Fazail from two yards.
It was 2-0 in the 71st minute when Ashri Chuchu latched onto a ball at the edge of the box and scored after his volley hit the crossbar and bounced into goal.
However, Malaysia never looked like they had the game in the bag and were guilty of numerous misplaced passes in the centre of the Zeyar Thiri Football Stadium.
Brunei looked dangerous with Adi Said leading the line, but time and again, the DPMM FC striker was unable to beat his marker and find any space inside the box.
Midfielder Azwan Ali Rahman was guilty of not only poor passes but a golden opportunity to tie the game at 1-1 when he was put through on goal in the 50th minute but skewed the ball wide.
Overall, Brunei lacked support going forward and the killer pass to open defenses when they were in their attacking third.
Though it was their second loss in as many games, and their fifth straight match without a goal, Kwon seemed satisfied with his players.
"Malaysia are a good team but they weren't in the best of conditions today," he said.
"We played our best game... We have good players and I'm sure they can go far in the future," he said, adding that five of his players are 17 and the average age of the squad is 19.
Malaysia's coach Datuk Ong Kim Swee, who changed his forward line around to "confuse our opponents" said that he was happy with the three points - if not the performance.
"The first game is always difficult and Brunei did well," he said.
"When you attack and don't score, that builds your opponents' confidence up," he replied when asked what he thought about Brunei's attack.
"I think the boys are not happy with the scoreline but we need to keep our focus because we have three points," he added.
Brunei next face Singapore on Friday and Laos on Tuesday.