KUALA LUMPUR • It was a single embarrassing mistake at the Shah Alam Stadium yesterday that sealed a football team's fate and decided the colour of their medal.
Malaysia had to settle for the silver while their opponents, Thailand, had home side goalkeeper Haziq Nadzli to thank for helping them clinch the gold with a 1-0 win.
The match started off with both teams taking their time to get into the rhythm and although Thailand had the better chances, they could not convert.
So it was down to Haziq to give them a helping hand, literally. The 19-year-old punched the ball into his own net by accident in the 39th minute while trying to intercept a corner kick.
That goal proved to be the only goal of the match and one that Haziq would probably remember for the rest of his life, especially in a match of such magnitude.
"It's a difficult situation for Haziq and the mistake can happen to any player. We cannot blame him, he's still young and still learning," Malaysia's Under-22 football coach Ong Kim Swee said.
"I'm not happy not to win the gold medal, but overall I'm satisfied with the performances of the players with the limited time we've been through.
"We've proven that we can compete with the region's (best) team."
Thailand will be ecstatic with their third consecutive gold, in a region where the love for the "beautiful game" is enough to make football the most coveted Games event.
The Thais were the Games' football champions in an unbroken run from 1993 to 2007 and again in 2013 and 2015, when they beat Myanmar 3-0 at the National Stadium in Singapore.
At the 2011 Jakarta SEA Games, Indonesia won 182 gold medals to become the overall champions, but it was the Malaysians who spoilt their party by defeating them in the football final after a penalty shoot-out.
Yesterday's final was initially scheduled for the National Stadium in Bukit Jalil but was moved to Shah Alam, where Malaysia had won five consecutive matches from the group stage to the semi-finals.
"We are unbeaten here and it gives us an aura of invincibility," said Football Association of Malaysia secretary-general Hamidin Mohd Amin.
That boast did not come true with Thailand beating Malaysia to the punch.
ASIA NEWS NETWORK/THE STAR