PETALING JAYA: Fancied Thailand are still the team to beat in the SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur next year.
The Thais proved that they are still a class above the rest in the region after beating hosts Malaysia 2-1 to lift the Nations Cup Under-21 tournament at the Hang Jebat Stadium in Malacca on Sunday.
A defensive lapse allowed the visitors to take an early lead through Worawut Namvech in the third minute.
Syamie Iszuan drew level for Malaysia with a clinical finish after he was brilliantly set up by left winger Safawi Rasid in the 38th minute.
Safawi floated the ball from his own half for Syamie to sprint past the last man before beating Thai goalkeeper Apirak Worawong from inside the box.
But the Thais came stronger after the breather and were rewarded with the winning goal through skipper Chenrop Saphaodi with a cool finish in the 79th minute.
The Malaysian back-line was left exposed after Tanasit Siripala's free-kick caught everyone by surprise when the rebounder came off the post for the lurking Worawut to score from close range.
Malaysia have themselves to blame with striker Muhd Jafri Firdaus Chew failing to take his chances at goal after being set up by the nippy Safawi in the 16th and 38th minutes.
Meanwhile, Vietnam turned on the heat in the second half to hold Singapore to a 2-2 draw and before winning 5-4 on penalty shootout to finish third in the tournament.
Singapore led 2-0 with goals from Adam Swandi (41st) and Muhd Hazim Faiz Hassan (50th) but the Vietnamese bounced back with strikes from Huynh Tan Sinh (56th) and Ha Duc Chan (90th).