SEPANG: Safiq Rahim skilfully avoided the press waiting for the national team upon their arrival home on Wednesday after the embarrassing 2-0 defeat to Hong Kong on Tuesday, leaving national coach Nelo Vingada apologising once again.
For the third time in his international career of 76 caps, Safiq was sent off in the Group B Asian Cup qualifier at the Hong Kong Stadium which left a national team playing without a recognised striker in the first half, which proved to be a mountain too high to climb.
Vingada said Safiq apologised in the immediate aftermath of his 40th-minute stamp on Hong Kong defender Daniel Cancela Rodrguez, which earned him a straight red card.
"This was the first time it happened under me," said Vingada, referring to Safiq's third international red card.
"I know him well, a very good captain, good fighting spirit. He recognised it was a mistake.
"Now nobody can say with him maybe we wouldn't have lost but nobody knows. Of course, when we lost Safiq, we lost the capacity to control the ball and the pace of the game was also lost.
"I'm not disappointed in him because it was not intentional. I don't see it as if it was something he intended. It was a mistake. At half-time he apologised to the team and recognised it was a mistake and it won't happen.
"I hope and I'm sure Safiq realises this kind of thing cannot happen at this level. And the referee took the right decision."
Johor Darul Ta'zim midfielder Safiq's latest dismissal follows his sending off against Singapore in a 5-3 away defeat in a 2011 World Cup qualifier and a 2015 friendly against Oman in Muscat, which ended in a 6-0 defeat for Malaysia.
An attempt to get Safiq, dressed in a white t-shirt, khakis and a cap, to comment was met with a one-handed wave of hand as he muttered his apologies and quickly left the arrival hall even before the rest of his teammates appeared.
Still winless after five international matches, four of which ended in defeats, Vingada took criticism of his role as national coach in his stride.
"I don't give up, I'm very optimistic and also realistic. When I was coach of Saudi Arabia and Portugal, I was at a different level," said the Portuguese.
"Here I know the level I am, for sure I am here to bring Malaysia to a different level.
"I'm here because I like to be here and I respect everybody. I believe in my staff and players and they know who I am. I can go anytime and still keep my head up because I am giving my best."
Vingada will have to make do without Safiq and defender Aidil Zafuan Radzak for Malaysia's next scheduled Group B match against North Korea on Nov 14 as both are suspended.