KUALA LUMPUR: The National Under-23 football squad’s hopes of a quarter-final spot look slim after they lost 2-0 to Vietnam for their second straight defeat in Group D of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Under-23 Asian Cup at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha, Qatar on Saturday (April 20) night.

The Harimau Muda, under the guidance of Juan Torres Garrido, started the game aggressively as Fergus Tierney’s grounder in the third minute was just off target.

Malaysia continued to pile on the pressure and had another good chance in the 21st minute but Muhammad Najmudin Akmal ballooned his shot with Vietnam goalkeeper Quan Van Chuan rooted to his spot.

Malaysia were then made to pay for their profligacy when Vietnam earned a free kick in the 39th minute after Muhammad Ubaidullah Shamsul Fazili was adjudged to have tugged Vo Nguyen Hoang’s jersey, leaving Khuat Van Khang to add the finishing touch to the freekick to put Vietnam 1-0 up.

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Although Juan Torres made some changes after the break, Vietnam, under the tutelage of coach Hoang Anh Tuan, continued to dominate the proceedings.

Vietnam then went 2-0 up in the 60th minute when Muhammad Ubaidullah fouled Bui Vi Hao in the box, leaving Vo Hoang Minh Khoa to convert the ensuing penalty.

Having also lost 2-0 to Uzbekistan in their opening Group D match on Wednesday (April 17), the Harimau Muda find themselves rooted at the bottom of the group with no points after two matches.

Vietnam top the group with six points from two wins, followed by Uzbekistan with three points. Kuwait, also with no points, are third on goal difference.

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The Harimau Muda will complete their Group D fixtures against Kuwait at the Al Janoub Stadium in Al Wakrah on Tuesday (April 23) knowing their quarter-final hopes hinge on two things: defeating Kuwait by a huge margin and the outcome of the other match between Uzbekistan and Vietnam.

Malaysia, who reached the quarter-finals in the 2018 edition, are targeting a similar achievement in this campaign.

Only the top two teams from each group will advance to the last eight and stand a chance to fight for the three automatic spots in the 2024 Paris Olympics while the fourth-best team in Doha will have to take on Guinea in a playoff in Paris in May.

Meanwhile, Harimau Muda coach Juan Torres attributed their defeat to their own failings, namely their poor finishing.

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“These mistakes happen in the game. Mistakes from the players, we can expect. They are still young players and don’t have too much experience, so this can happen. There are some other mistakes that I don’t like that much,” said the Spaniard in an audio recording that the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) shared with the media tonight.

Asked about his team’s preparations for the game against Kuwait, Juan Torres said the two back-to-back defeats have not dampened their spirit nor determination as they are still all fired up to fight for the country.