Ipoh - The world's 12th-ranked South Africa men's hockey team were edged 3-2 by world number 13 Malaysia in the opening round of the 23rd Azlan Shah Cup tournament in Ipoh in Malaysia on Thursday.
The teams were locked on 1-all at halftime.
On an exceptionally humid evening, South Africa withstood early pressure and in the sixth minute keeper Rassie Pieterse made a reflex glove save to his left from a flying deflection but in the 10th minute.
Shahril Saabah was on the end of a fierce cross from the right for the opening goal.
In the 14th minute, industrious midfielder Clint Panther stole around the left-hand baseline and nifty stickwork enabled older brother Brandon to win the first penalty corner.
A second penalty corner followed after Jethro Eustice's drag-flick caught the first-wave defender's foot. Eustice chose the same option and the turf-sizzler evaded keeper Haffizudan Othman to his left for the equaliser in the 16th minute.
Two consecutive Malaysian penalty corners came and went while Pierre de Voux came agonisingly close to getting a stick onto captain Wade Paton's powerful flick into the penalty area.
But Malaysia continued to reap reward out of attacks down the right flank and in the 24th minute there was a heart-stopping moment for SA supporters from Rashid Baharom's effort.
The chanting, singing home crowd exploded in the eighth minute of the second half (43rd) when Player-of-the-Match Baharom took a quick self-pass to score from an acute angle on the left.
South Africa won a fifth penalty corner two minutes later but Eustice's low flick went past the post.
Malaysia then enjoyed a purple patch, during which a number of goal shots were saved, to the consternation of the drum-beating home fans.
Penalty corners came and went but the brave South African defence repelled the threat and in the 55th the Africans won a sixth penalty corner.
The world-class combination of corner injector Robinson and trapper Tim Drummond did their bit and drag-flicker Eustice made no mistake with another turf-burner for the equaliser(2-2).
A superb block with his outstretched stick by Jonty Robinson stopped yet another Malaysia, penalty corner and Dylan Swanepoel made one of many fine tackles by the South African defenders during the match, but Faizal Saari kept his composure to make it 3-2 from a penalty corner in the 62nd minute.
In the dying minutes striker Julian Hykes drilled a power shot into the sideboard after good work by Drummond but the spoils were deservedly Malaysia's.
In the early game world number one Australia beat world 25 China 7-0 after leading 3-0 at half-time.
SA meet China at 14:05 (SA time) on Friday, while the early match sees South Korea face Canada.