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Sunday November 14, 2010

Malaysia enter last 16 but crippled by injuries and suspensions

MALAYSIA qualified for the second round of the Asian Games men's Under-23 football competition for the first time since 1978 but paid a heavy price in their final Group A match against China at the Tianhe Stadium last night.

The Malaysians had three players sent off, five cautioned and the match ended with a heavy 0-3 defeat to the hosts.

Now, Malaysia are barely left with a team for the next match against Iran on Monday. With three players out on suspension for receiving the red card against China, coach K.Rajagopal is left with only 13 outfield players to choose from to face the mighty Iranians.

The trio who saw red last night were Mahali Jasuli and Safiq Rahim, who were both sacked in the 25th minute and S. Kunalan, who had to leave the pitch in the 82nd minute.

Out you go: Referee Ben Williams of Australia sends off Malaysian midfielder S. Kunalan during the Group A football match against China. Malaysia lost 0-3. –AFP

With two other key players, Norhafiz Zamani Misbah and striker Ahmad Fakri Saraani, still on the crock list, Rajagopal is left with a huge task to put up a team capable of taking the fight to Iran.

It was supposed to be a happy occasion for Malaysia to have qualified for the second round for the first time in 32 years.

But referee Ben Williams of Australia was the man at the centre of controversy with his dubious decision to send off defender Mahali for a second bookable offence in the 25th minute.

Mahali had picked up the first caution in the second minute for a late tackle on a Chinese defender.

But the second yellow was for his protest against a throw-in call against Malaysia.

The Harimau Muda player had, out of frustration, kicked the ball out and it earned him a second caution.

Skipper Safiq was shown a direct red card for his protest against the referee's decision to sack Mahali.

Until then, the Malaysians had done well to keep the Chinese at bay and even with nine men, prevented their opponents from scoring in the first half.

It was not long before the weary Malaysians lost hold of the game and the bubble burst when Li Jianbin opened China's account with a free header from a free kick in the 61st minute.

Four minutes later, Zhao Honglue scored with a stiff grounder off another free kick and Zhang Linpeng completed the rout from the penalty spot in the 83rd minute.

Despite the defeat, Malaysia checked into the last 16 by virtue of being one of the four best third-placed sides .

The confirmation of teams for the second round was known before the final round of matches were played in Group A and B.

The Group C matches were decided earlier with the bottom two sides, Palestine and Jordan, joining Group F's Maldives and Pakistan as the eliminated sides alongside Kyrgyzstan, Bahrain, Bangladesh and Singapore.

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