This is the first time for the past 8 years I wrote seriously about the Malaysian Football Team. The last time was a massive criticism to the FAM via their website.
Why? The past. The dreadful performance .... the massive losses to China (0-5), Uzbeks (1-5) as the host of Asian Cup. Losses to the minnows such as Laos, Phillipines (congrats to both team in this tourney!!!) and Palestine. I still remember when Phillipines won 1-0 in the SEA Games 10 years ago. To make it even worst, the Filipinos was then coached by a Malaysian. Still in the memory of the 0-6 losses to Indonesia also in the Brunei's SEA Games. The list of shames were long.
However, I am a massive fan of the national team. I got most of the jerseys of the past. I even supported team even when the Brazilian team of 2002 and when Man U came for friendlies though I knew the team will b6e srely beaten with a a bang. The scores of 0-8, 0-7 its a norms. Malaysian were used to the below par performance, circus-like act even the days of "play-acting". Remember the bookies years in the Malaysian League? The FIFA rank? Hahaha .. as low as 165.
The first sign of recovery. The Merdeka tourney of 2007. The 50th anniversary of our merdeka. The national team coached by B. Sathianathan won the cup albeit of weaker oppositions. But still, its was a good performance.
Suddenly. It reminds me the young team of Harimau Malaysia in 1983. I was a 9-year old football fan that time. The Harimau its actually the B team of Malaysia. That team beat Saudi Arabia 3-1. Initially the earlier Harimau team was graced by George Best who don national jersey (still remember , with Lucky Strike as the sponsor). The Harimau of 1983 consists of very talented young players such as Azizul Abu Haniffah and Karim Pin etc. However, the Harimau of the 80's were dissolved because of the bureaucrazy.
Fast forward. Came the Harimau Muda. Not one but three Harimau Muda teams of U-23, U-21 and U-19. Even the cubs of U-17 were also formed. At the same time K. Rajagopal, the former Selangor & Malaysian great came along to coach these youngsters.
The Harimaus were sent to various tournaments. One team competed in the Malaysian League. A team were sent to the Slovakian League. Quality friendlies were arreanged. No longer useless friendlies with teams such as Angola C, Taiwan part timers, Liberia, Maldives etc.
The results suddenly improves. These combinations even beat South Korea, drew with Japan, give Man U a mighty scares etc. The even won the SEA Games last year in Korat. The first time since 1989. They qualified to the Second Round in the Asian Games. The first since 1982. The even qualified to the Final of AFF. The first since the K. Sanbagamaran- inspired performance in thr inaugural tourney 14 years ago.
Tonight, the team will met the Indonesian in the first leg of the AFF Final 2010. This was actually unexpected. First because the team was without 10 first teamers. Even worse before the tourney, Raja was without the entire backlines. Second, because of that, the team were soundly beaten by Indonesia 1-5 in the first game of the group stage. Results improves especially when the defense were marshalled by few 19 years-olds. Thai were held 0-0 and the Laos were beaten 5-1. Came Vietnam. The defending champs were beaten by 2-0 and 0-0 results. Unexpectedly, the Harimau are in the Final.
Kudos to the youngsters. Kudos the Rajagopal & coaches. Kudos to YB Subahan and management team. Kudos as well to the FAM. What ever the outcomes of the Final, please keep this young team. Improve the team. Please, don't repeat the mistakes of the past. Remember to remember.
Its a hope that "Harimau mampu membaham Garuda"