Friday, July 29, 2011

High expectations dashed, but keep the fire burning!

The fans came in full force to support the Malaysian team with hope that they will overturn the two goal deficit against Singapore from the first leg of the Asian Zone World Cup qualifiers at the National Stadium in Bukit Jalil last night, but returned home with mixed feelings.
Whether we will see another record crowd like last night to support the Malaysian team again, is left to be seen.
But if the fans really believed in the team, they should continue to return in full force because the truth of the matter is that Malaysian soccer still has a long road ahead of them and they need every ounce of support to reach the pinnacle.
Sadly, the media hyped up the match to a frenzy atmosphere without giving the real scenario.
The real scenario was that it was an uphill battle last night and win or lose, the Malaysian team had given their best and should look forward to building the team for the 2015 Asian Cup championship.
When the Malaysian team still have problems defeating teams from the Asean region - be it with their naturalised players or not - we still have a long way to go.
Even if Malaysia had gone to defeat Singapore, it would have been another struggle in the next round and ultimately to dream that we will make the final rounds of the World Cup qualifiers, was indeed a futile and frustrating exercise.
The reality check is that the Malaysian team is still a long, long way to becoming among the best in Asia.
Let us qualify for the Asian Cup final, before we even dream of the World Cup.
I am in no way ridiculing the Malaysian team. Merely stating the facts.
Yes, we have improved over the years, but still a long way off to becoming a feared team in the region.
And my fear is will this team go one to improve further, or take a downward trend with the influx of foreign players back in our M-league next year.
Without doubt, one of the reasons for the rise in our soccer standards was because local players were exposed at playing in the M-League.
Now with the foreigners back, many of our local players are going to warm the bench, especially strikers, midfielders and centrebacks. Is this going to help our national team? I have argued on this matter many times over and my stand still remains the same - keep the foreigners out till our overall standard of the League has reached a respectable level with our local players.
Coming back to Datuk Rajagobal's squad, it was indeed a heartwarming sight to see the players shed tears, bury the faces in the ground and applaud the fans.
It only meant that players wanted so much to do well and win the match and were disappointed that they could not deliver.
This I have not seen for a while. There have been occasions where I have seen players walk into the dressing room after a defeat without any feeling and laughing and cracking jokes and singing in the bus!
At least we know that we have some dedicated players who are patriotic and want to do well. For that alone, the fans must keep coming back each time they play.
Let us now have a long term programme for Rajagobal and Ong Kim Swee's teams and continue the hardwork and play top class matches. If some national players can find attachments with top clubs overseas, it will be great.
But above all, these players must keep their feet firm on the ground and their heads in place, and continue their hardwork.
Results will come eventually, but not without pain and sacrifices!
Till the next match the Malaysian team play, continue to wear the national jerseys and keep the passion burning.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

High stakes in Malaysia versus Singapore match

Whether Malaysian soccer rise or fall will all depend on what happens tomorrow night at the National Stadium in Bukit Jalil where a capacity 85,000 will fill the stadium in the World Cup Asian Zone qualifier.
That the fans are still flocking to the Stadium despite Malaysia's 3-5 defeat to Singapore at the Jalan Besar Stadium last Saturday, is ample proof that the Malaysian soccer team have captured the hearts of Malaysians and believe in them.
 Just two years ago when Manchester United visited Malaysia, the National Stadium was a sea of red jerseys and rooting for the Red Devils. But this time around for the Asian Tour of Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea, the crowd was equally divided in their loyalty. Infact, many fans who came wearing jerseys of the English clubs, still supported the Malaysian team. There was no jeers for the Malaysian players.
How things have changed since winning the Sea Games gold in 2009 and the AFF Suzuki Cup last year.
Tomorrow night, will also reignite the traditionally Malaysia-Singapore clashes which has always been fierce fought battles.
With two goals down, if Datuk K. Rajagobal's team give anything short of a good fight, they will be courting trouble from the fans.
The hype over the current Malaysian team has been built up so high, that a fall tomorrow could be a long fall down.
Whether the hype over the team is justified is another question entirely. Right now, the fans are behind the Malaysian team and believe in them and they have to deliver.
To chase a two goal deficit is not easy and a great deal of character, discipline and determination is required.
Had the Malaysian team returned with a 3-4 score, the battle would have been much easier.
Right now the fans are flooded by their emotion of faith and believe in the team. No amount of reasoning that it is going to be a tough task, is going to make the listen.
Let us hope that the players themselves are incensed by the same believe as the fans.
As much I personally belief that it is going to be an uphill task, I also believe nothing is impossible in a game of soccer.
Let us not talk about the "special ones" in the Singapore team and just treat them as another standing in path of Malaysia's progress.
Bring on everything that is needed to get past Singapore.
Let Malaysia be proud that results can still be achieved without naturalised players.
Bosnian-born Aleksandar Duric, together with Mustafic Fahrudin (Serbia), Daniel Bennett (England), Shi Jiayi and Qiu Li (China), will not be able to experience the same feelings as Malaysian players will in triumph.
Afterall, Duric is a 41-year-old player who should already be playing for veteran teams.
If our young, genetic and fit players cannot stop Duric, then they only have to blame themselves.
Let us not give excuses like we were overawed by the occasion and the pressure was too much from the fans!
The Malaysian Team had asked support and they have got it!
This time we are not playing on artificial turf and the players should have learnt from their mistakes. There is no room of playing in patches.
It has to top gear from the first whistle to the final whistle.
If that is given and it is still not good enough to see the Malaysian team win, then we just have to accept the fact that we are not good enough yet and have to go back to the drawing board and start working towards the Asian Championship.
Singapore will also be under tremendous pressure having to play in front of a 85,000 capacity Stadium which is alien to them and in a bigger pitch.
Singapore is definitely going to treat this match as a whole new match with the score at 0-0 and that is one luxury Malaysia cannot afford because whichever way they look at it, they are down by two goals.
Whoever, Rajagobal decides to field tomorrow night, it is probably the best lineup he thinks will get the result. The defence have been said to be the weakest in the team. But come tomorrow night, there is no weak-link in the team, but just one formidable team!
Will the team rise to the occasion to make their fans proud of them and probably double the support for the team overnight, it is left to be seen.
All the best to both Malaysia and Singapore and may the better team triumph.
My little wish as I watch the match on television is that our local commentators will not go overboard and become fans of the national team, but just be professionals and comment on the match as a neutral observers. Let the fans and viewers be the judge of the game. There have been times where I had silence the volume to enjoy the game!

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!

Saturday, July 2, 2011


 In conjunction with the 10th Anniversary celebrations in Malaysia,  ProEvents International- Arsenal Asia Tour 2011 promoters- are giving a life time opportunity to football fans to greet the Gunners.
Tickets purchased before July 9 2011 (cut off time 9pm), will stand a chance to meet the Arsenal players.  Those who purchased tickets before this announcement for the “lucky draw” need not despair. They will be included in the draw.
However, only 50 lucky ticket holders will get this rare opportunity. The “winners” will be picked through a computerised ticket serial number draw which will be done by Ticketpro.
ProEvents Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Mr Julian Kam said the winners will be announced through the media partners of the Tour and ProEvents facebook.
“This is one way to allow football fans and supporters of Arsenal to be up close-and-personal with their idols. It is a lifetime opportunity for them to meet and greet and welcome them to Malaysia. It is also to show the Gunners that they have strong fan base in this country,” said Kam.
Tickets for Arsenal’s match, priced at RM58, RM68, RM108 and limited RM388 can be purchased through and selected Nike outlets in the country.
The Gunners are back in Malaysia after a 12-year absence and will kick-start their Asia Tour 2011 with a match against the Malaysian X1 at the National Stadium on July 13. Kick-off is at 8.45pm.