Following their first ever AFF Cup title in 2010, expectations for the then Malayan Tigers were understandably high. After all, their squad for this competition was composed mostly of the same players from the 2010 edition.
The 2010 alumni in the squad included Khairul Fahmi Che Mat, Safee Sali, Norshahrul Idlan Talaha, S. Kunanlan, Safiq Rahim and Fadhli Shas. But there were several new faces in Mahalli Jasuli and Wan Zack Haikal Wan Noor while Azamuddin Akil were called up following his eye-catching performance in the Malaysia Super League with Pahang.
Head coach K. Rajagopal, became the first ever head coach to guide Malaysia in two separate AFF Cup editions. Malaysia were the co-hosts of this edition, having been picked as the hosts of Group B, alongside qualification stage runners up Laos, the previous edition's finalists and regional rivals Indonesia, and archrivals Singapore.
However, Malaysian fans would learn the hard way not to place too high an expectation on their side. In front of the home crowd at the Bukit Jalil National Stadium, Malaysia lost 3-0 to Singapore in the opening game, through a brace from skipper Shahril Ishak and a goal by veteran striker Aleksandar Đurić.
Thankfully three days later, against Laos the co-hosts faced little problem producing a convincing 4-1 win. In their last group match, they faced Indonesia, who shockingly could only draw against Laos in their first group match, but won against Singapore in their second.
Thankfully this time, it was the Garudas who faltered at the last hurdle. Two quickfire first half goals from newcomers Mahalli and Azamuddin were enough to sink their opponents and pip them to the second spot and the semis. Singapore qualified as group champions also with six points, and were only separated from Malaysia by one goal difference.
Meanwhile in Group A, Thailand asserted their dominance by winning all three group matches to finish in pole position, while the Philippines finishined the group stage as runners up. Despite the daunting task of taking on the South East Asian giants, Malaysia had the advantage of playing at home for the first semi-final leg.
They seemed to be on course when Norshahrul's early second half goal put the home side in the driving seat, but shaky defending led to them conceding star striker Teerasil Dangda's equaliser with 10 minutes to go.
In the second leg on December 13 at the Supachalasai Stadium, Bangkok, Malaysia started well in the first half, holding off the home side's attacks. That was until defender Fadhli Shah was shown a second yellow for an altercation near the halftime whistle. Having to play with 10 men in the second half, they then conceded two goals, to lose the semi tie 3-1 on aggregate.
But despite their strong performance, Thailand would fall at the last hurdle to Singapore. Singapore, having beaten the Philippines 1-0 on aggregate in the other semi-final tie, defeated the Thais 3-2 on aggregate in the final tie. It was their fourth ever AFF Cup title, the first side to reach that milestone.