BURIRAM, Thailand -- Malaysia's 2019 AFC Asian Cup qualifying hopes lie in tatters after they were outclassed in a 4-1 defeat to North Korea.
The result leaves the Harimau Malaya bottom of Group B on one point, four points behind the North Koreans and Hong Kong with just two games remaining.
Pak Kwang Ryong and Kim Su Yong struck in the first half before second-half strikes from Kim Yong Il and Jong Il Gwan put the North Koreans 4-0 up. Safawi Rasid netted a late consolation for Malaysia but it will not be enough to spare Nelo Vingada more serious questions after his side were brushed aside so easily.
Only a very unlikely run of results can keep Malaysia in contention, starting with a win over the same opposition in the second of a double header in neutral Thailand on Monday.
There were some tough physical challenges in the opening stages as both sides tried to gain the upper hand in what was a pivotal game.
The Koreans threatened first in the 10th minute when P. Kwan Ryong cut inside from the right and made space for a shot that was deflected wide for a corner.
A minute later the Koreans were handed the chance to open the scoring when Ri Yong Jik's cross from the left struck Fadhli Shas on the hand for a penalty.
The Malaysia skipper complained that it was ball to hand, but P. Kwan Ryong was unperturbed and rolled the spot-kick past Hafizul Hakim to put North Korea 1-0 up.
The Harimau Malaya battled gamely in midfield but could not impose themselves on the Korean defence, and their opponents were looking more threatening in attack.
In the 22nd minute, the Malaysians were fortunate not to find themselves two goals down as P. Kwan Rong's cross from the right found Kim Yu Song. The striker -- top scorer in this year's AFC Cup -- looked certain to score but pulled his shot wide from 10 yards out.
In the 24th minute, Malaysia had their first decent opening when Hafizul's kick caught the Korean defence napping and allowed Wan Zack Haikal a run at goal.
But it was North Korea who threatened again in the 34th minute when the ball dropped to P. Kwan Ryong about the 25 yards from goal. On the bounce, the striker cracked a powerful drive off the bar.
But the Felda United midfielder was quickly put under pressure and rushed his shot, which went high and wide.
The ball came off the Malaysian woodwork again in the 38th minute, but this time the ball came from Wan Zack's backpass from inside the Malaysian half. The midfielder launched a high ball back to Hafizul, but the keeper was caught off guard and the ball drifted past him before coming back off the post.
However, it wasn't long before the Koreans struck again. In the 42nd minute, Jong Il Gwan's free kick from near the left byline was headed home by Kim Yun Song for a deserved second goal.
If Malaysia hoped to regroup at half-time, they soon suffered another setback as North Korea added a third goal just three minutes after the restart. Jong Il Gwan's deep low cross from the left found Kim Yong Il at the far post and the striker finished brilliantly with a powerful drive high into the net.
And the Koreans piled on the misery in the 59th minute with a fourth goal. A free kick was awarded when Fadhli upended Kim Yong Il on the edge of the box, and Jong Il Gwan curled home the set piece, completely wrong footing Hafizul.
Malaysia finally gave their travelling fans something to cheer in the 67th minute as they pulled one back. Nazmi Faiz broke down the left and cut the ball inside to substitute Safawi Rasid, who fired home an angled drive into the top corner.
But Vingada's side go into Monday's game against North Korea with everything to prove and the head coach's job possibly on the line.