Malaysia need to get up to speed quickly if they are to make anything of their AFC U-23 Asian Cup campaign

Malaysia's 2024 AFC U-23 Asian Cup campaign began on a disappointing note on Wednesday as they fell to a 2-0 loss to Uzbekistan in Group D. Noushad Thekkayil/NurPhoto via Getty Images

It was always going to be a huge ask for Malaysia to make their mark on the 2024 AFC U-23 Asian Cup -- and potentially seal a dream berth in the men's football tournament at the Olympic Games later this year.

And if the magnitude of the task was not already obvious, it did not take long for them to be handed a firm reminder.

With just nine minutes on the clock on Wednesday as they opened their campaign against Uzbekistan, Malaysia's failure to match the pace their opponents started with saw them concede a needless penalty.

Having looked to have done enough to halt a dangerous foray forward by Uzbekistan, the Malaysians dallied in possession inside their own area -- which saw Syahir Bashah get himself tangled with teammate Zikri Khalili and then lose the ball before clumsily hacking down an alert Ruslanbek Jiyanov.

With the resultant spot-kick, Jasurbek Jaloliddinov made no mistake to open the scoring and leave Malaysia with an uphill task right early on.

The Malaysians then did well to keep their excellent opponents at bay for much of the remainder of the contest, while offering one or two threats of their own -- but it never looked like Uzbekistan were in genuine danger of relinquishing their lead.

Ultimately, another mistake would prove as costly for Malaysia when Muhammad Abu Khalil -- under no pressure and with his back to play -- played a careless stray pass inside his own half that was quickly pounced on by Khusayin Norchaev.

Immediately charging towards the Malaysian goal, Norchaev proceeded to feed a slide-rule pass through to fellow substitute Ulugbek Khoshimov, who would coolly finish past Azim Al-Amin to seal the victory for Uzbekistan.

Even if Malaysia had not been in the giving mood, it was likely that the Uzbeks would still have found whatever extra gear they needed to get the result.

They were quicker, more incisive, better organized and, quite simply, better.

Still only 21, Jaloliddinov promises to continue Uzbekistan's rich history of producing silky-skilled playmakers with a dynamic display that was reminiscent of the likes of Server Djeparov and Jaloliddin Masharipov.

On the contrary, the players that were likeliest to get Malaysia going struggled to get going.

Both captain Mukhairi Ajmal, who has no shortage of experience at senior level, and Luqman Hakim Shamsudin, who is currently on the books of Belgian outfit Kortrijk and has long been viewed as the future of Malaysian football, failed to have an impact.

Luqman lasted just over an hour before being hauled off by coach Juan Garrido, while Mukhairi followed suit with 20 minutes remaining.

While no individual blame should fall on either of their shoulders, it is nonetheless telling when two star men were both substituted while the contest was still in the balance.

Malaysia do have a decent chance to get their campaign up and running on Saturday when they take on fellow Southeast Asian contenders Vietnam in their second Group D tie, knowing another big tests lies in wait after that in the form of Kuwait.

It is likely that Garrido will ring some changes.

T. Saravanan, who memorably scored four goals in a Southeast Asian Games rout of bitter rivals Singapore last year, could offer some much-needed energy in the attacking third, while the likes of Najmuddin Akmal and Haqimi Azim Rosli could also be optimistic of a starting berth after coming off the bench on Wednesday.

Still, rather than a change in system or personnel come Saturday, perhaps Malaysia simply need to bring a different urgency and desire to their game.

If it was opening day jitters that led to the error-strewn display against Uzbekistan, than so be it.

But Malaysia can ill afford something similar against Vietnam, or their U-23 Asian Cup could be over before it even really begun.