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After watching World Cup South Africa 2010 in June, any other football tournament is just second class. Though every now and then I did sit down to watch some British FA cup games when teams such as Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool or Chelsea competed. So I must say I was not really that interested to watch the Asean Football Federation cup games till I came across the news that the Malaysian team was going into the final and there was such a controversy when our team won 3-0 on the home leg. The use of laser by some idiotic Malaysian fans on the opponent’s goal keeper was condemned by the Indonesian fans and they accused Malaysia of playing dirty . Things were abuzz on twitter and “Hate Malaysia” was among top cyber topics.

Incidentally I did not watch that controversial game. I wish I had.

I made sure I watch the return leg of the match at Gelora Bung Karno Stadium in Jakarta last night 29 December 2010. So there I sat for over 90 minutes without flinching save during the half time and the “aaahh” and the “oooh” unconsciously began and the smart comments such as ” There should be more Blue Shirts there” and ” why didn’t he keep the ball”, ” He should have run faster” etcetera, came rushing uncontrollably . Well only armchair fans would indulge in this kind of useless remarks, comments and nerve-racking emotional outburst. That is part of watching football. By the way, I nearly taped my irritating friend’s mouth for commenting non-stop on the game and players so that I could watch in peace!

The early first half saw the Indonesian players controlling the game and attacking vigorously. I was worried that they might do the unthinkable by scoring 5-0 at the rate they were going. The unconverted early penalty for the Indonesian ,however, seemed to have broken their spirit a bit. Thanks to the brilliant save by our goal keeper, Khairul Fahmi. I noticed the good Indonesian players, Gonzales, Nasuha and Arief seemed to outrun our players. Their pace more brisk. Malaysian flair came far in between though they were more accurate at goal scoring. The 53 minute goal by Sali really kept my hope soaring for Malaysia as an away goal is worth two scored at home.

Striker Mohd Safee Sali : 3-goal scorer

I was thinking that Malaysians should go for an attacking game in the second half but unfortunately right from the beginning they were playing a defensive game, that was why we had an own goal at 87th minute. We were leading in the first half and the Indonesians were attacking strongly and in fact their spirit was rejuvenated after their first goal in the second half. The problem with the Indonesians was poor finishing. I noticed that some of their players controlled the ball better than ours. They were all over the place and they were fast but they were not able to score probably due to Malaysian tight defence and also the fact that our goal keeper was in fantastic form. I would have voted Khairul Fahmi as the man of the match.

Malaysian goal keeper Fahmi in fantastic form

It is well known among football fraternities that defensive football is not going to make you win the game. But I suppose the Malaysian coach Rajagobal adopted the strategy as he was betting on ensuring the three goal difference should be kept at all cost. He was probably going for a scoreless draw as the championship is based on an aggregate win. It would have been an epic match had the Malaysian strategy been otherwise.

For me the mark of a true champion in AFF Suzuki Cup is winning both at home and away matches. The thirst to outclass the rest should be ignited as this itself will make football not only exciting but inspiring to the young of this country. I did not see that fire in the game last night. It was just a mediocre game for both teams without any flashes of rare brilliance synonymous with a standard international football. Remember the road to the World Cup does not follow a primrose path.

Yes Malaysia won on a 4-2 aggregate but lost on the chance of making her a true champion both feared and respected by opponents everywhere.

We had a great goal keeper but the players, especially our midfields, were not doing justice by making the Indonesian goal keeper work harder to save or let through goals! So Indonesian won the match last night 2-1. It looks good on them as the match was played on their home turf supported by thousands of fans and the President himself.

Anyway I am happy all the same that Malaysia, after 14 years, have managed to bring back the coveted cup home and I could see that there is this feel good factor that we are experiencing now and this augurs well for PM Najib and the spirit of 1 Malaysia. I am proud, nevertheless, with this young football team and the fact that coach Rajagobal pitches his reputation to let young unknown players play in international game like this, injecting fresh young energy to a long term lethargic game/ association led by equally lethargic leaders.

And for winning the championship, PM Najib made a popular decision of declaring tomorrow Friday 31 Dec 2010, the last day of the year a Public Holiday. It is fitting as the usual PH, New Year Day on 1 Jan 2011 falls on a Saturday which is already a holiday for the public and private sector.

Long live football in Malaysia! And Tigers do not rest on your laurels as you haven’t got the mark of a true champion yet.

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