(From left) Philippines assistant coach Randolfo Paolo Clarino, Malaysia coach Ong Kim Swee, China coach Guus Hiddink and Laos coach V. Sundramoorthy at the press conference for the AFC Under-23 qualifiers yesterday. PIC BY AZHAR RAMLI

THE newly created Airmarine Cup was supposed to be the first step of FAM’s ambitious F:30 programme to make Malaysia an Asian football power by 2030.

The target in the tournament was simple — beat any of the three teams: Singapore, Afghanistan or Oman (who are all world ranked higher than Malaysia), and it will help to boost Harimau Malaya’s world ranking.

But it all went wrong for World No 167 Malaysia in their very first match of the Airmarine Cup on Wednesday.

Tan Cheng Hoe’s men were knocked out 1-0 by World No 165 Singapore, not World No 147 Afghanistan or World No 90 Oman.

Ironically, the goal that floored Malaysia and spoiled FAM’s day was scored by a man who had to go back to Singapore in January when Perlis FA failed to pay him for his work in the M-League.

And Singapore’s 26-year-old striker Faris Ramli really made Malaysia pay.

He calmly latched on to a defence splitting pass from teammate Khairul Amri to hit a superb shot past Malaysia goalkeeper Khairul Fahmi Che Mat in the 83rd minute.

The defeat is likely to see Malaysia miss out on an Asian top 34 ranking and this means they will have to take part in the 2022 World Cup qualifying round first round play-off (Asian zone).

Singapore will be exempted from the play-off.

The last time Singapore beat Malaysia at Bukit Jalil was in 2012. And after seven years, Harimau Malaya were once again bitten by the Lions in their own den.

Just when it seemed Malaysia had gone ahead of Singapore by reaching last year’s 2018 AFF Cup final, the islanders shattered that illusion on Wednesday.

What makes it more grating is that Malaysia’s M-League (which produced an AFC winner in JDT) seems to be doing better than Singapore’s struggling S-League in the years between the two Singapore wins at Bukit Jalil.

But nothing could be further from the truth.

The match on Wednesday saw Singapore taking back all the bragging rights across the Causeway.

“We started slowly and there were no urgency,” said coach Cheng Hoe.

“Singapore showed more determination and spirit.

“I’m disappointed with our performance just like the next person but in football, we have to move on and think positive.

“It’s my job to find the best solution when we play next.”

Harimau Malaya will take on another pack of lions in the third placing playoff tomorrow.

Cheng Hoe’s men had better be beware of the Afghan Lions.