Crucial but contrasting opening wins in Asian World Cup qualifiers have Malaysia dreaming

Darren Lok scored the only goal of the game in Tuesday's win over Chinese Taipei as Malaysia secured back-to-back victories to begin their second-round campaign in the Asian qualifiers for the 2026 FIFA World Cup. Football Association of Malaysia

Malaysia have never qualified for the FIFA World Cup. They have not even come close.

But with the second round of Asian qualifiers for the 2026 edition now two games old, they could not ask to be in a better position.

Not when they have a maximum six points to their names albeit with the back-to-back victories coming in contrasting fortunes.

The first, last Thursday, required them to show tremendous resolve as they relinquished an early lead to find themselves trailing Kyrgyz Republic -- opposition arguably of the same calibre -- by two goals with less than 20 minutes remaining.

Somehow, Harimau Malaya managed to pull off an improbable comeback to clinch a 4-3 victory courtesy of Faisal Abdul Halim's 93rd-minute winner -- after defender Dion Cools had initially emerged as the surprise avenue of two important goals.

On Tuesday, against a Chinese Taipei outfit they were stronger than, at least on paper, the Malaysians then struggled to find a breakthrough before ultimately snatching a 1-0 win when substitute Darren Lok -- just ten minutes after being introduced -- scored the only goal of the game in the 78th minute.

In both ties, however, there were common themes: composure, resolve, and most importantly, belief.

As thing stand, Malaysia are currently sitting pretty atop Group D with a three-point lead, after Kyrgyz Republic's shock win over Oman left both teams with a win to their names while Chinese Taipei are currently propping up the standings.

Malaysia's toughest test lie ahead of them with a double header against Oman next March.

The Omanis remain the favourites in the group but Kyrgyz Republic have shown they are far from invincible.

A win in any of those outings would put Malaysia in an even stronger position but even a draw or two would be positive, given they will have every reason to be confident they can end their campaign with victories over Kyrgyz Republic and Chinese Taipei again.

Of course, finishing in the top two only secures progress to the third round of Asian qualifiers.

There, a far different proposition will await -- likely in the form of continental powerhouses such as Japan, South Korea, Iran and Saudi Arabia.

The expansion of the World Cup starting from 2026, which will see the Asian Football Confederation guaranteed eight spots at the tournament from the previous four, means it is a far more achievable goal for many teams.

It still might be a bridge too far for Malaysia yet perhaps the biggest achievement could simply be progress.

By virtue of reaching the third round of Asian qualifiers for the first time, Harimau Malaya will qualify automatically for 2027 AFC Asian Cup -- unlike in the upcoming edition at the start of next year, which saw them go the long way around as the third last team to secure their berth.

They will also then be able to lay claim to being one of Asia's top 18 teams based on their performance in the World Cup qualifiers, regardless of what the at-times deceiving FIFA world rankings might suggest.

And there is also the prospect of ascertaining how far they have come -- and how much more they still have to go -- against the teams who are now regular fixtures flying the flag for Asia at the biggest stage football has to offer across the entire globe.

Malaysian football fans certainly have good reason to be dreaming at the moment.

Maybe it just isn't about reaching the World Cup in 2026 itself, but how they look to be on the right path to getting there eventually.