Safee Sali came off the bench to net two second-half goals as Malaysia held off a determined challenge by Laos to win their Suzuki Cup Group B opener at the Surakul Stadium in Phuket today.
Safee replaced Amirul Hadi Zainal in the 55th minute and broke the deadlock 13 minutes later when he met Indra Putra Mahayuddin's corner with a fine volley.
Indra Putra extended the advantage with a 73rd minute free-kick before Safee headed in his second of the match three minutes from time to secure the points for the Malaysians.
Both teams struggled to settle in difficult conditions caused by heavy rain that fell throughout much of the match and genuine chances were few and far between in a disappointing first half.
Malaysia caused few problems for the Laotian defence until just before the half-hour when Asraruddin Putra Omar floated in a dangerous cross from the left that flew over the head of Hairuddin Omar and just beyond the reach of Amirul Hadi Zainal's boot.
Laos only secured their place in the tournament by winning a qualifying event in October but nearly took the lead in stoppage time when Phayvanh Lounglath fired in a free-kick that goalkeeper Helmi Eliza Elias managed to tip over.
Malaysia asserted themselves at the start of the second half and went close to taking the lead in the 55th minute when Indra Putra curled a shot towards the top right corner of the net that was brilliantly tipped away by goalkeeper Sengphachan Bounthisanh.
The Malaysians were nearly caught on the break just before the hour as a long ball sent Lamnao Singto clear on goal. He attempted to steer the ball past Helmi from just outside the box but the Malaysian keeper threw himself to his right to tip the shot wide.
Saynakhonevieng Phommapanya was fortunate not to concede an own goal as he deflected a Malaysian cross onto his own crossbar and out of play but the deadlock was broken from the resulting corner in the 68th minute as Indra Putra picked out Safee Sali, who got in front of his marker to fire an unstoppable volley past Bounthisanh.
Malaysia extended their advantage five minutes later when they were awarded a free-kick 25 metres from goal.
Indra Putra had wasted two earlier opportunities from similar distance but made no mistake third time around, curling his effort past Bounthisanh into the bottom left corner.
Laos nearly pulled a goal back with 10 minutes to go as substitute Sangvone Phimmasen took advantage of a stumble by Mohamad Aidil Zafuan to chip the ball past an advancing Helmi only for an alert Norhafiz Zamani Misbah to head away before the Laotian could apply the finishing touch.
Malaysia added a third late in the game as Indra Putra floated the ball into the box towards Safee who directed his header with his back to goal past a stranded Bounthisanh.