SINGAPORE: Malaysia gained a barely-deserved 0-0 draw after being dominated by Singapore in the Causeway Challenge at the National Stadium in Kallang on Friday.
The performance will have given national coach Datuk Ong Kim Swee little clarity on the make up of his squad for the AFF Cup in November with only friendlies against Afghanistan on Tuesday and Papua New Guinea next month to come.
Ong oversaw his sixth draw alongside six wins and six defeats in 18 matches in charge of the national team in two separate stints since 2014 with the result, though not the performance, an improvement on a 3-0 defeat by Indonesia last month.
"We did well in terms of defending as a unit and we did what we had to do," he said after the game. "Singapore played with their best XI and did well not to concede.
"Whether I am happy is not the most important thing but what is important is to get a result. I would love to play beautiful football but then when you don't get a result it is a disaster."
Singapore coach V. Sundramoorthy rued his side's failure to turn possession into goals, saying: "I think it was more difficult to hit the bar than to put the ball into goal. We were also denied a penalty but performance wise it was great."
Ong revamped his back-line after the Indonesia defeat with Kedah defenders Rizal Ghazali and Khairul Helmi Johari given their first caps, lining up alongside Perak duo Shahrul Saad and Nazirul Naim Che Hashim with Pahang's Khairul Azhan Khalid in goal.
Azrif Nasrulhaq Badrul Hisham was pushed up to the right flank with Safawi Rashid on the opposite wing while Baddrol Bakhtiar and Irfan Fazail manned the midfield in support of forwards Ahmad Hazwan Bakri and Amri Yahyah.
Singapore in turn fielded eight players who were part of the LionsXII squad which won the 2013 Malaysian Super League title while recalled 38-year-old Daniel Bennett marshalled the defence.
Malaysia were put immediately under pressure from kick-off with the fullbacks giving possession away cheaply.
Azhan then flapped at a cross but Faris Ramli volleyed wide with the goal gaping after six minutes with Faris then seeing another volley blocked by Rizal.
The goalkeeper came to Malaysia's rescue in the 14th minute when Azhan got down low to deflect Izzdin Shafiq Yacob's strike from Gabriel Quak's cutback as Singapore spurned a glorious chance to open the scoring.
Malaysia first put Singapore keeper Hassan Sunny to the test in the 33rd minute when Amri had a curling effort from the edge of the box tipped over.
Just before the break, Singapore hit the Malaysian crossbar twice - from an inswinging cross by Faritz Hameed which floated past Azhan and from Hariss Harun's follow-up header.
Having been fortunate to still be level at the break, Malaysia could have been a man down in the 56th minute when Safawi Rashid floored Khairul Amri Kamal with a vicious kick but received just a yellow card.
Only a last-ditch tackle by half-time substitute Shahrom Kalam on Baihakki Khaizan prevented Singapore from scoring after the hour-mark before Bennett's header came off the bar from a corner-kick.
As the minutes ticked away, Malaysia came no closer to a goal and only obdurate defending kept the hosts at bay with Singapore's Sahil Suhaimi even resorting to a bicycle-kick when flew straight to Azhan.