Malaysia up and running at Southeast Asian Games but improvement is needed ahead of tougher tests

In the end, it proved to be a routine win for Malaysia as they belatedly began their men's football campaign at the 32nd Southeast Asian Games with victory on Wednesday.

With a 5-1 scoreline, it could even be said they performed as expected by routing a Laos outfit seemingly destined to finish bottom of Group B.

Yet, the truth of the matter is that the scoreline -- boosted by a late blitz that reaped three goals in the final 15 minutes -- arguably flattered the Malaysians.

And considering their opening assignment is also likely to be their easiest, improvement can -- and needs -- to follow.

It was all going swimmingly for E. Elavarasan's charges as they took the lead after just four minutes when Ubaidullah Shamsul converted on the rebound after Laos were completely carved open by a sweeping counterattack.

But Ubaidullah then went from hero to villain in the 21st minute when he scored his second of the evening but -- this time -- in the back of the wrong net.

Laos did then repay the favour through an Anantaza Siphongphan own-goal seven minutes later yet, having regained the lead, Malaysia then struggled to show any real guile or an initiative for much of the contest thereafter.

It was not until Elavarasan turned to his bench that the Tigers were able to put the result beyond doubt.

Having had the misfortune of twice being denied by the woodwork after coming on -- although he should really have buried his effort narrow miss -- Fergus Tierney would turn provider as his clever flick paved the way for fellow substitute Syahir Bashah to fire home his side's third of the evening.

Najmuddin Akmal, another introduced to the contest late on, then made it 4-1 in the second minute of injury-time before the distraction he created at the near post from a corner resulted in another own-goal as the unlucky Sonexay Phanthaxay added a fifth for Malaysia right at the death.

There is no denying that having players that can come on and have an impact should be seen as positive, and it is true that only the woodwork prevented the Malaysians from sealing the win far earlier in the game.

Nonetheless, there was a distinct lack of control exerted by Malaysia against far weaker opposition than those awaiting on the horizon, even if the Laotians never really looked like threatening an upset.

Having sat out the opening match day, Malaysia now have to juggle three games in six days starting with Saturday's meeting with record 16-time gold medallists Thailand.

Following that is a real test against defending champions Vietnam, before they finish their Group B campaign by locking horns with fierce rivals Singapore in a Causeway derby.

The road ahead is only going to get tougher for Malaysia, especially if they are to bag a medal at the very least.

The biggest positive for them to take from Wednesday is that they have kicked off with three points and still with plenty of room for improvement.

And it is highly likely they will indeed need to improve starting on Saturday against the Thais.