Malaysia opened the campaign in the 41stMerdeka Tournament by carving out a 1-0 win over traditional rivals Singapore at the Darul Makmur Stadium in Kuantan.
Despite a clinical display, Malaysia failed to make use of the chances they created against a side they had defeated 3-1 in the 2007 Merdeka Tournament.
The Malaysia squad received a boost when Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak spared time to meet the players in the dressing room before the match.
But once on the pitch, the team showed the were all business and they dominated the match but were guilty of squandering the chances, even to the extent of missing a penalty and taking advantage of the fact that Singapore played with a player less for most of the second half.
The match was played in a steady drizzle and both teams found it difficult to adapt to the heavy pitch conditions.
Singapore adapted well to the conditions as Quak Jun Yi forced Malaysian keeper Md Izham Tarmizi into a diving save as early as the second minute. And in the 7th minute, Quak ghosted past T.Reuben but failed to connect much to the relief of the Malaysian defence.
That awoke Malaysia from their slumber as they moved the ball onto both flanks and pumped in crosses. Skipper Mohd Irfan Fazail then Singapore custodian Muhammd Syazwan Buhairi with a free kick from 30 meters out which was punched to safety in the 14th minute.
Singapore nearly took the lead a minute into injury time as Muhammad Khairul Nizam burst through the middle but Izham was equal to the task as he palmed the ball out for a fruitless corner.
Malaysia came out looking refreshed and took a minute to go 1-0 ahead as Thamil Arasu burst through the left and coolly slotted the ball past an onrushing Syazwan in the 46thminute.
Malaysia was awarded a penalty in the 55th minute and Singapore reduced to 10 men, as Muhammad Afiq Yunos was red carded for handball. But Wan Zack Haikal’s attempt was a tame one and easily saved by Syazwan.
Malaysia were denied yet again in the 83rd minute as a good buildup involving Thamil Arasu, Wan Zack and Fadhli Shas saw the ball played to Putera Nadher Amarahan whose shot bounced off the upright with Syazwan beaten all the way.
Though Malaysia tried to add a second, they were thwarted with poor finishing and superb goalkeeping by Syazwan.