Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Old Habits Die Hard

It has been a while since I wrote on Malaysian sports because nothing much has really changed.
Except for an occasional reason to shout about, most of the time there have been more controversies, bad governance of sports associations, unscrupulous officials taking sports for a ride, athletes still struggling to act like professionals, money still being poured into sports but shortchanged by end results or poor programmes and the list goes on.
However, after having watched the return leg of the Asian World Cup qualifying first round away tie between Malaysia and Chinese Taipei, I decided that I had to pen down my thoughts.
Going down to Chinese Taipei 3-2 after taking the lead twice is no excuse. Blame the referee, the 20,000 capacity crowd and the rain, but the sole blame lies with the players.
Calm before the storm in Chinese Taipei
What was witnessed on Sunday, was the true colours of the Malaysian players.
Many may disagree and would want to continue to believe that Malaysian soccer has improved by leaps and bounds after having won the Suzuki AFF Cup beating Indonesia, but the truth of the matter is that Malaysian soccer is far from even being the best in the Asean region.
The Malaysian team have been performing well so far mainly because of the system that has been put in place by national coach Datuk K. Rajagobal and the players executing it with full discipline and dedication.
Credit goes to the players here for their discipline in carrying out their duties according to the plans of the coach. Also credit must be given to the players for their superior fitness level to carry out the plans for a full ninety minutes.
But what was seen on Sunday at the Chinese Taipei Municipality Stadium was old habits of players flooding back just because they took at early lead in the 7th minute after their 2-1 victory from the first leg.
The Malaysian players suddenly abandoned all plans for the game and decided to take the game into their own hands which resulted in - sluggish play, no urgency, holding on to the ball longer than they should, trying to beat an extra man before making the pass and above all taking their opponents lightly.
And the end result, they paid the price for their follies.
The two goals scored by Malaysia's Aidil Zafuna Radzak and Safiq Rahim from dead ball situations and the penalty save by goalkeeper Sharbinee Allawee Ramli , should have been the talking point of the game, but in the end those excellent moments were over shadowed by the overall poor performance of the team and the 3-2 defeat.
If there was facing saving moment, it was the 4-4 aggregate and the away goal which put Malaysia into the next round to play Singapore.
By the looks of the expression on the players faces after the game, I wonder how many actually knew that Malaysia had qualified despite the defeat.
Even one of the commentators for Astro Arena who televised the match live, did not know that Malaysia had qualified for the next round despite the loss and said that the match will be decided with extra-time since both teams tied at 4-4!
It is hoped that the Malaysian players have finally been brought down to earth after all the euphoria surrounding their recent performances.
And hopefully their matches friendly matches against Arsenal and Liverpool, will further put them in the right place but in the right frame of mind for the match against Singapore.
Let us also hope that the national players get enough practice on the artificial turf before they head down to the Jalan Besar Stadium, as they will be playing on artificial surface. The last thing we want to hear is that the players were not used to the bounce of the ball on the artificial turf or pace!
I do not want to ridicule the national team, because like every Malaysian I want to see the team do well.
But we still have a long, long way to reach the top and the players cannot stop working hard to get anywhere close to the pinnacle.
A lot of people want to join the bandwagon and sing praises for the national team, but one has to be objective and access the team's strength for what is worth, and not overate the team to build false hopes.
The same people who are signing praises now, will be the first to criticise the team the moment they fall. It will serve no purpose then to criticise the team then, as it will too late and no remedies can be made.
Better to get the players to realise their follies now, rectify it now with the hope that we can go as far as possible in the World Cup campaign.
The truth of the matter is that Malaysia is still a long way to hold a candle with the giants of Asia like Japan, Australia, Korea, Iran and China who ranked top five currently.
Even in Asean, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam and Singapore are ranked above Malaysia, whose current world ranking is 142, 22nd in Asia and fifth among the Asean countries.
So let us keep our feet firm on the ground, work hard for our results in every match, see how far we can go and take it from there to move forward further with better long term concrete plans in place.
Let us not fool ourselves that we are going to get immediate result.
Let us target the Asian Cup to be among the top teams in this championship before we start dreaming of the Olympics and World Cup.
Let us hope that nothing disastrous happens in the Jakarta Sea Games in November and derail all our hopes!

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