Thailand coach Mano Polking blamed a red card handed to defender Jonathan Khemdee late in the first half for a shock 2-1 defeat to arch-rivals Malaysia in the opening Group G match of the Vietnam SEA Games on Saturday night.
Substitute Nur Azfar Fikri Azhar emerged as Malaysia’s hero for grabbing an injury-time winner to rock Thailand, who have won the men’s football competition at the SEA Games 16 times.
Azhar’s winner came after Danial Asri had put Malaysia on par with the War Elephants just after the hour mark.
Thailand were given the lead in the 33rd minute when Patrik Gustavsson pounced on a defensive mistake to score.
Polking told media after the match that the red card to Jonathan, sent off for a challenge on Syahir Bashah three minutes from the break, was the “turning point” of the match.
“It’s disappointing that we lost the game in the last minute of the match,” said Polking.
“But being one man down since the first half forced us to concentrate more on defending and play a game that we are not familiar with.
“Then we lost Ekanit Panya to injury in the second half and things became even more difficult for us.
“We didn’t play well in the second half and the Malaysians took over the control of the match.
“There is no time for any disappointment or regrets. We must move on, win our remaining matches and qualify for the next round.”
Thailand team manager Nualphan Lamsam apologised to the Thai fans for the loss and promised to make an all-out effort to win the remaining three group matches.
Thailand face Singapore on Monday 7pm (Thai time) at Thien Truong Stadium, Nam Dinh.
In the other Group B match on Saturday, Singapore made a dramatic start to the tournament as a late equaliser allowed them to hold Laos to a 2-2 draw.
A hard running and persistent pressing Laos side went 2-0 up inside of the hour through goals from Ekkamai Ratxachak (14th minute) and Chony Wenpaserth (49th).
However, Singapore did not give up and in the 89th minute, Glenn Kweh fired home the first goal before Jordan Emaviwe then slammed the equaliser seconds before the final whistle.