Friday, December 5, 2014

Keep your feet on the ground


 Level Field  

Keep your feet on the ground

Everyone, from players, officials, fans and politicians to even sports journalists and commentators, seems to be euphoric about Malaysia qualifying for the Asean Football Federation (AFF) Cup semifinal after having - narrowly - beaten Singapore last Saturday.
I don't want to be a party-pooper but the win must be seen for what it truly is and we have to approach the first leg of the semifinal against Vietnam with humility.
There is nothing great about beating Singapore. After all, it is a traditional rival that is ranked lower (158) than us (155) by FIFA.
To top it all, the victory came during injury time through a penalty kick awarded by the brave Omani referee Al Kaf Ahmed Abu Bakar Said after Singapore’s Hafiz Abu Sujad challenged Amri Yahyah in the box.
The Singaporeans protested but to no avail. In the replay, Hafiz is seen making contact with Amri’s back, although the latter was already on his way down after jumping high to meet a cross. It just looks as if Hafiz and another defender Shakir Hamzah went for the aerial ball too and there seems no intention to bring Amri down.
But the referee saw something else and his decision was final.
Malaysia were lucky to have got that break in the final minutes of the match for Safiq Rahim to step up and score.
Indra Putra Mahayuddin’s goal that came minutes later, to me, is nothing to shout about. 
In a tactical decision, Singapore pushed all eleven men into Malaysia’s box when they got a corner in the dying minutes as an equaliser would have seen them qualify for the semifinal. At that point, it did not matter if they lost 2-1 or 4-1.
As it turned out, their gamble did not pay off and in the counter- attack, while goalkeeper Hassan Sunny was trying to get back to his position, Indra had an open goal in front of him.
Of course, it took composure for Indra to score with the Singapore defenders rushing towards him, so all the credit goes to him.
All I am saying is that let us not go overboard.
Can you imagine the hullabaloo if the score had remained at 1-1 and Malaysia were shown the exit?
Meanwhile, the scene of a group of commentators from a private Malaysian station celebrating like fans went viral in social media. Where is the impartiality of sports journalists and commentators? They should have been doing their job instead of joining the fans in their celebration.  
The same people who sang the team their praises, jumping from their seats screaming with joy, would have been the first to tear the team apart if they had lost.
National coach Dollah Salleh would have been crucified, goalkeeper Khairul Fahmi Che Mat would have been massacred for his blunder in Singapore in finding the equaliser, Safee Sali would have been a punching bag for indiscipline -- he was caught on camera smoking -- and the brickbats would have been endless.
Let us not forget how we ranted against referee Al Kaf Ahmed after he flashed Gary Steven Robbart a second yellow card, thus expelling him from the game against Myanmar before halftime.
This is the same referee who gave Malaysia a lifeline on Saturday.
Everyone must realise that all that the victory over Singapore has given Malaysia is borrowed time.
If we take Vietnam lightly just because we are playing at home first, we may suffer the consequences.
A good friend of mine and a senior sports journalist from Singapore, Suresh Nair, assessed the game in this manner:
"It's a truism that you play your hardest until the final whistle. The defending champions (Singapore) just let their guard down after the late 1-1 equaliser and paid a heavy price.
"Penalty row? Absolutely not from a referee trainer's view as there was an unwarranted aerial tug in the penalty box.
"Fixing? No evidence in this patriotic marquee match. Lucky? Maybe, but in life, everything hinges on luck but you have got to work your butt off before Lady Luck delivers.
"My longer-term worry: Singapore and Malaysia appear to have lost their 'hunger' while the rest of Asean have awoken from their slumber. If Malaysia can get over Vietnam over two legs, it will be short of another miracle. But after what the Tigers achieved at the Singapore Sports Hub, miracles can happen again.”
Now, this is an unbiased assessment and what the readers want to know.
Yes, I am Malaysian and I support my national team. But as a sports journalist, the fan in me stays out of sight.
I seriously hope Malaysia qualify for the final, but I will not be surprised if the Philippines won the Cup this time around.
As for Malaysia, what we have now is a stop-gap measure and probably a team good enough for a tournament. Try using the same players for another tournament and disaster awaits Malaysia. At the end of the day, we need long-term planning.
Let us not rejoice in wins over minnows in regional tournaments. Let us look at the big picture. Otherwise, we will have teams like the Philippines, Myanmar, Laos and maybe even Timor Leste making us a laughing stock soon.
Everyone has a role to play but let us play it professionally.
 TONY MARIADASS is a sports
journalist with more than three
decades of experience and is ­­­­­
passionate about local sports. He
can be reached at tmariadass@ Twitter handle: @

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