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Safiq Rahim says Malaysia taught lesson in Asian Cup loss to Lebanon

Malaysia midfielder Safiq Rahim
Safiq Rahim made his international comeback after almost a year against Lebanon on Tuesday.

Malaysia captain Safiq Rahim says Tuesday's Asian Cup qualifying defeat to Lebanon was "a lesson", and admits that his side will need to improve to have any chance of making it to the 2019 tournament in United Arab Emirates.

Lebanon came from behind to beat the Harimau Malaya 2-1 at Larkin Stadium -- the home of Safiq's club side, Johor Darul Ta'zim (JDT).

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The visitors were able to score two goals in the last 15 minutes, despite the absence of JDT's star striker Mohammed Ghaddar, who had been dropped by the West Asians for the game,

Safiq made a good start in his international comeback with a strong first-half performance. But he faded after half-time when Lebanon substitute Rabih Ataya entered the game in the second half, producing the winner in the 94th minute.

"We couldn't maintain our momentum and advantage from the first half, but gave our best," Safiq told The Star. "Their No. 20 [Rabih] is a very good player and caused us a lot of problems. He changed the game when he came on in the second half.

"We also suffered from lapses of concentration and our confidence was low when Lebanon began pressuring us.

"We need to be more consistent, like how we played in the first half. But this is what we need to learn. This is a good lesson for us."

Malaysia are bottom of Group B, with a match in hand, with Lebanon top on six points from North Korea and Hong Kong (both one point).

New coach Nelo Vingada is likely to hold a centralised training camp in August and is planning a friendly before the Malaysians face Hong Kong in Johor Bahru on Sep. 5.

Hong Kong defeated Singapore last year, and secured two 0-0 draws against China in 2018 World Cup qualifying. They drew 1-1 with North Korea on Tuesday after holding a 1-0 lead at half-time.

Safiq said there were plenty of positives that Malaysia can take forward to their next competitive match.

"We cannot be negative with this result [against Lebanon]," he said. "The coach [Vingada] has only the full team for 10 days, so I am confident we can improve.

"The management and coaching staff have done their best, so we, the players, will have to do better."

It was Malaysia's first international match since a 0-0 draw against Philippines in Manila in March under previous coach Datuk Ong Kim Swee.

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