Controversial calls and capitulation see Malaysia fall victim in Southeast Asian Games' Group of Death

It always looked like it would be an almighty task but, with a game still to go in their men's football campaign at the 32nd Southeast Asian Games, Malaysia have fallen victim to the Group of Death.

A 2-1 defeat to Vietnam on Monday -- their second of the tournament after also losing to Thailand last time out -- officially ended the Malaysians' hopes of finishing inside the top two in Group B and qualifying for the semifinals to stand a chance of a medal finish.

It was never going to be easy from the moment they were drawn in the same group as defending champions Vietnam and record 16-time gold medalists Thailand, along with fierce rivals Singapore -- who they will now face off against on Friday with little more than bragging rights on the line.

Unlike the Singaporeans, who have picked up just a solitary point and offered very little in the tournament, Malaysia have actually given a decent account of themselves.

After trouncing Laos 5-1 in their campaign opener, Saturday's 2-0 loss to the Thais - which was only secured late on with two goals in the final 17 minutes - would have offered Harimau Malaya enough optimism that they could get a result against the Vietnam.

A draw would have sealed Thailand's progress but it would have at least taken the battle for the second last-four berth with Vietnam down to the final day of Group B action.

Instead, Malaysia will now feel hard done by that their campaign as ended.

They might even cry foul.

But as they finished Monday's game against Vietnam with just nine men, having also conceded a penalty, the Malaysians will also have to absorb some of the responsibility for the defeat.

There was inarguably controversy though.

With barely five minutes on the clock, a speculative Vietnam effort was blocked by Harith Haiqal but the ball then ricocheted off his thigh and spun onto his outstretched arm.

Following a brief delay as he processed the incident, referee Jumpei Iida emphatically pointed to the spot.

Harith's hand had been in an unnatural position and, had it not intervened, the ball might have spun through to an unmarked Nguyen Van Tung -- but the close proximity the ball travelled from legal thigh block to the penalised handball felt a little harsh.

As commentators like to opine: "We've seen some given. We've seen some not."

Yet, Vietnam did not immediately break the deadlock as Malaysia goalkeeper Sikh Izhan Nazrel deciphered which way Van Tung was going -- only to parry his the spot-kick back into a dangerous area rather than out to safety, allowing the Vietnam striker to make amends by forcing the ball home on the rebound.

Van Tung would go on to add a second in the 33rd minute but, just when it looked like the Vietnamese were cruising, Malaysia hit back two minutes before the break.

And if they had felt a sense of injustice from the earlier penalty decision, it was their turn to benefit from a debatable decision.

Vietnam goalkeeper Quan Van Chuan should really have done better than to spill a freekick whipped in by Aliff Izwan he did look to have safely gathered the ball at the second attempt, only for it to be kicked off out his hands by Aiman Afif and into the back of the net.

At 2-1, Malaysia were back in the contest with an entire second 45 to find the equaliser -- still not a straightforward task and one they would preferably try to accomplish with a full complement of players.

With no VAR at the tournament, Mukhairi Ajmal had already been fortunate to escape punishment when he appeared to be guilty of violent conduct but it was missed by Iida.

Malaysia would however eventually find themselves down to ten men when Safwan Mazlan -- having only just been brought on as a substitute -- got into an unnecessary tussle having successfully shepherded an opposition player to allow Izhan to gather a high ball.

This time, it was in full view of the Japanese referee and, just like the penalty, it was slightly debatable given Safwan had not exactly used excessive force or made direct contact with his opponent's face.

Still, the action was completely necessary and it left himself at risk of being subject to the upper extreme of adjudication of the rule book.

Ten soon became nine when Najmuddin Akmal, in his first start of the Games having been one of Malaysia's brightest sparks coming off the bench in their previous two games, needlessly clattered into the back of an opposition player for his second yellow.

With a two-man numerical deficit, the Malaysians were always going to struggle to force a draw and that eventually proved to be the case.

Their unhappiness was evident when the game came to an end.

As Ubaidullah Shamsul picked up a booking after the final whistle for approaching Iida and sarcastically applauding him to his face, it was clear Malaysia felt they had fallen victim to some questionable refereeing decisions.

And there may be some truth in that.

Nonetheless, as their hopes of glory came to an end, the Malaysians will also have to take their fair share of the blame.