(QAT: Abdulkarim Salem Al Ali 65′)
Malaysia put in a spirited display but had their hopes of automatic qualification for the 2015 AFC Asian Cup ended after a 1-0 defeat to Group D opponents Qatar on Tuesday.
Following a goalless first half at the Shah Alam Stadium, the visitors found the breakthrough in the 65th minute when substitute Abdulkarim Salem Al Ali applied the finishing touches to an excellent team move, which also proved to be the only goal of the game.
The result was enough to see Qatar seal qualification to Australia and end Harimau Malaya’s hopes of a top-two finish, although there will can potentially still qualify as the best third-placed team.
Needing only a draw to seal a top-two finish in Group D, Qatar started Tuesday’s game showing plenty of intent, enjoying plenty of possession from the opening whistle and looking to test the opposition defence early on.
It was however through a mistake that presented them their first real chance when Sebastian Sooria broke through in the 19th minute after an untimely slip from Amirizdwan Taj Tajuddin, but Khairul Fahmi was off his line quickly to deny him in a one-on-one situation.
But for all their early dominance, the Qataris failed to really carve out any clear opportunities and as the half wore on, it was the hosts who looked the more threatening as they came into the game.
Right on the half-hour mark, Safiq Rahim lined up a freekick on the left and went straight for goal with a fierce effort that forced Saad Al Sheeb to punch clear from the danger zone.
Seven minutes later, Malaysia had another half-chance after Safee Sali, breaking on the counter, played an incisive pass in search of Amri Yahyah, only for Al Sheeb to race out and smother bravely at his feet.
Still, for all the endeavour Harimau Malaya were showing, the visitors continued to control proceedings after the break and were unlucky not to take the lead in the 63rd minute; Khalfan Ibrahim sending a 20-yard drive back off the bar after an excellent run past a couple of opponents.
Nonetheless, the deadlock was finally broken two minutes later when Khalfan, after exchanging a couple of neat passes with Hassan Al Haidos, played a slide-rule pass to Sooria, who in turn chipped the ball over the onrushing Fahmi to leave Al Ali with a simple tap-in.
Now urgently needing a goal to get back in the contest, Malaysia immediately adopted a more-attacking approach but it nearly cost them in the 70th minute when Al Haidos broke free down the left and dinked the ball back into the middle, only to see Mahalli Jasuli race back and hack it clear.
15 minutes from time, a moment of magic from Norshahrul Idlan Talaha saw him skip past a man down the right and burst into the box, but just as his cross looked set to fall to a team-mate, Wesam Rizik was on hand to make a desperate interception before anyone could pounce.
And despite their best efforts in the closing stages, Malaysia were just unable to find a way past a well-organised Qatar backline marshaled by Ibrahim Al Ghanim, as their opponents held out for a crucial win.
Malaysia: Khairul Fahmi, Mahalli Jasuli, Aidil Zafuan, Amirizdwan Taj Tajuddin, Razman Roslan, Amri Yahyah (Nazrin Nawi 75’), K. Gurusamy (Nazmi Faiz 78’), Safiq Rahim, S. Kunanlan (Azamuddin Akil 53’), Norshahrul Idlan Talaha, Safee Sali.
Qatar: Saad Al Sheeb, Hamid Ismail (Mossab Mahmoud 60’), Bilal Mohammed, Ibrahim Al Ghanim, Abdelkarim Hassan, Mohammed Kasola, Wesam Rizik, Hassan Al Haidos (Mohammed El Sayed 81’), Khalfan Ibrahim, Ali Afif (Abdulkarim Salem Al Ali 46’), Sebastian Sooria.