SEA Games 2011: Malaysia 0, Singapore 0

It’s been a while since Malaysia played like this, playing with confidence. Too much of it, maybe.

Yes, our team is the only Southeast Asian team still in the running for the 2012 London Olympics. Yes, our backline is practically the 2010 AFF Cup champions’ backline. A non-age group tournament.

However, we need to acknowledge that five of the Singapore players are in their World Cup squad, with three of them first choices. Yes, half of the Singapore team is practically their World Cup team. Still in the running for 2014 World Cup. The biggest non-age group tournament, ever.

Reality bites, ain’t it? Kau hebat? Ada hebat lagi. Kau ligat? Ada ligat lagi.

Our under 23 team might be the strongest that we have for a long time but that’s no excuse to take everything too overly casual. We might lose only one goal-getter in Wan Zack Haikal, but a loss of one player is all it takes to turn a team with huge potential into an epic fail. Just watch the 1998 Brazil World Cup team.

In the 2001 edition, the class that included current Malaysia Cup winners Norhafiz Zamani Misbah and Irwan Fadzli Idrus, was blessed by the goal scoring instincts of not one, but FOUR natural goal scorers in Nizaruddin Yusof, Akmal Rizal Rakhli, Indra Putra Mahayuddin and Hairuddin Omar. That team stormed into the final, winning all of their matches, scoring 10 goals while only letting past one, until they were undone by an own goal by their goalkeeper in the dying minutes of the final match against Thailand. I can never forget that moment because I was in the stands. Even the Thais felt somewhat guilty when taking the gold:

After a fine tournament, it was somewhat of a pity that the winning goal for the gold medal had to be decided in this manner. But that’s football and Thailand walked away with the winner’s medal in front of over 70,000 fans.

Now the problem with the current class is: scoring.

Across the duration of the match, we were restricted to only letting off speculative shots from outside the box, with only few on target. You are left wondering: where are the goals going to come from? Thamil? Fakri? Baddrol?

There were flashes of short pass brilliance with Syahrul Azwari getting in the thick of things. The introduction of Wan Zaharulnizam brought about some hope, but they were not realized.

Singapore coach Slobodan Pavkovic said that “it is one point gained rather than two points lost” so this probably sums up Singapore’s attitude going into the game: to defend. They actually did very well by totally shutting the door on the face of a blunt strikeforce.

When you cannot score, you hope that the backline is solid. It was solid. The trio of Khairul Fahmi, Muslim and Fadhli utilized their experience in senior matches to good effect. Fandi’s foray into the Singapore box brought about our best chance of the game: a legitimate appeal for a penalty. But you just hope Asra will not repeat that backpass to an opponent player again. Luckily he was saved by the whistle.

Just remember, a mere solid backline cannot win you a tournament. Just watch the Thailand 2010 AFF Cup team.


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