Tuesday, December 28, 2010

One of the most outstanding shows for Malaysia to remember By CALEB KHEW

The following article was published in The Star today. I agree 150% with what the author, a Mr. Caleb Khew says here:

I HAD doubts about going to Bukit Jalil today. I didn’t have a ticket, plus I wasn’t sure whether I will be able to snag one if I made it there.

Not to mention that we are facing the form team of the tournament. In the end I decided to go, praying that there will be tickets remaining. As it turned out, there were plenty of tickets remaining.

I gladly bought mine, and went into the stadium a good three hours before kickoff. Going in so early ensured that my friends and I got fantastic seats, with a great view of everything.

Indonesia had thrashed us 5-1 in the group stage, a result that had most of the nation up in arms over the state of our football. Of course, these are the general fans (calling them fans is a bit of a stretch) who know next to nothing about the team and only know how to criticise.

But lo and behold, we made it to the final and suddenly there is mass interest in our team again. I guess success is the only way to drum up interest from the casual fans but their fickleness gets to me at times. Criticism from people who know nothing is the worst kind of criticism.

The emergence of the players from the tunnel resulted in a 100,000 strong ovation, which television simply did not do justice to.

Being part of the crowd was electrifying; the atmosphere, unreal. The ultras brought along their kompangs, fireworks and flares as per usual, creating an atmosphere inside Bukit Jalil that few stadiums anywhere in the world could hope to match.

Singing Negaraku along with 100,000 people, you could feel the goosebumps developing. Have you ever been part of a 100,000 strong crowd, experiencing the exact same emotions? I have.

Ther was one thing I felt tarnished our victory ever so slightly – the constant use of the lasers to distract the opposition as well as the flinging of fireworks and shooting explosives onto the pitch.

As a football purist, I find it disgusting, and the very real danger of having the match called off was not something I wanted to happen at all. Not to mention that it would probably endanger our team and travelling fans in the return leg.

But as a fan, I will admit that it was pretty fun to watch and be a part of. I wanted to chant along to the song everyone seemed to know. Sadly, I didn’t know the lyrics. It doesn’t mean I am any less of a fan. I just haven’t been to as many games.

I will learn this song.

As for the game, Malaysia totally dominated, creating more clear-cut chances, as well as having many more shots on target. Official stats listed us as having eight shots on target against one from Indonesia. Not very hard to figure why we won then.

I also saw a fan carrying an octopus with Malaysia inscribed below it. If an octopus says we are gonna win, who can argue with that?

The opening goal was a thing of beauty with Norsharul Idlan Talaha displaying terrific balance and did fantastically well to win possession as well as keep the ball in play on the byline before jinking past one challenge and squaring to Mohd Safee Sali, who had the simplest task of slotting the ball home.

Cue pandemonium. I can’t really remember what happened for the next two minutes, I just know that I reached a whole new level of euphoria during that time.

I was jumping up and down in my friend’s cup of sirap Bandung as well. My slippers were wet with pink drink. And I didn’t care at all, not a single iota.

However, what was extremely stupid was the launching of a firework onto the pitch during the celebrations, which exploded directly in front of one of our players. Good thing nothing terrible happened but it could have been worse.

I am all for the ultras but some common sense would be nice. The flares were a nice touch though. For a few moments, I felt like Bukit Jalil was an entirely different place; the atmosphere had reached a whole new level. It felt more like the San Siro. If you don’t know what that is, Google it.

The second goal was also brilliant with Norsharul again providing the assist. Taking out two defenders with a world-class turn (yes I said world class), he then slalomed past another defender before putting in a low cross, which took a deflection off an Indonesian defender before Mohd Ashaari slammed the ball into the top corner via the goalkeeper’s fingers. Stunning, absolutely stunning.

Mass pandemonium resumed, and I went back to my little happy place for another two minutes.

The third goal was scored by Safee again, with a neat little header from a beautiful early cross from Mahali bin Jasuli. You only see crosses like that in FIFA, such was its accuracy and execution.

Mass pandemonium again. In fact that whole 12-minute period was one constant high. I nearly lost my phone as well, but in this circumstance, I really couldn’t care less. I didn’t want the game to end, everything was perfect.

I’m a huge Manchester United fan and I celebrate every goal they score with enthusiasm and joy.

However, it is a totally different story when your country scores.

I am Malaysian and therefore I am connected to my national team in a way that no other team will ever be. Every goal the team scores is for us, all 26 million of us.

I will never forget the three goals they scored against Indonesia in the AFF tournament first-leg final and it only confirms why I love my national football team with a passion no other team will ever enjoy. Nothing United achieve will ever top this.

As the referee blew the whistle, every one of us stood up to salute our heroes. Eleven players who etched their name into Malaysian football folklore.

The atmosphere was still electric. I was still on my high.

So was everyone else around me. Malay, Chinese or Indian, it did not matter. Tonight, we were one. We were Malaysia. There is no other time can you high-five a complete stranger or celebrate wildly with the nearest person to you. They say football can unite people. They are not wrong.

The drive home was something I thoroughly enjoyed as well. You would have thought that with the jam, everything would be chaotic. It was, but in the good sense.

I rolled my windows down as my cousin hoisted the Jalur Gemilang. And we proceeded to high-five anyone that walked by as I honked all the way home.

It’s one of those things you see on television all the time, but being part of it is something else. Safe to say, the drive home was something else I will take away from this game.

Motorcycles and cars usually do not get along on the road. Tonight, even the vehicles came together as one as we shared Malaysia’s triumph.

This team have faced severe criticisms. This team were missing 10 key players. This team were given no chance in hell of going this far. This team did not have the support of the Malaysian public.

Until now. It irks me that the casual fans continue to criticise and criticise but on nights like these they magically become proud Malaysians.

Look around Facebook and Twitter and you will touch the tip of this very hypocritical iceberg. Maybe now they will l decide to follow the team a bit more closely and give them the support they need.

K. Rajagopal should be commended greatly for his work with our national squad. He knows where the weaknesses are and works on it. Our national team is now a cohesive unit; one who work for each member of the team.

The team used to be rubbish at marking and defending. Our defenders can now read the game like a book. Our midfield used to tire easily and used to have a poor work rate. The same can’t be said of them now.

And most notably, our strikers used to be selfish. They used to create only for themselves. Tonight, we saw our deadly front two combine with devastating effect.

Tonight, the entire team gave us a five-star performance. No doubt, this is due to years of hard work. And we are finally seeing the benefits of it.

Granted, this is only a regional tournament and we should have bigger fish to fry. But we are taking it slow, one step at a time, which is the right way to go.

We can’t expect to be competing with the best in Asia, let alone the world just yet. But we are heading in the right direction. And most importantly (we haven’t even won the Suzuki Cup yet), we are just celebrating a tremendous result.

My previous notes all lament the state of our football (the China game was just my initial reaction, it actually was all the referee’s fault). So one great tournament will not drastically alter my view but I do feel we are headed in the right direction.

It’s just up to the team to maintain and even improve on their current standard.

There is no doubt that they can, it’s just a matter of whether they want to or not. And when we finally get rid of all the politics and other nonsense in the FAM set-up, there is no telling how far we can go.

Tonight was a defining moment in Malaysian football history. It will be a date that stands out in time.

A date we will remember fondly. Like the time we qualified for the Olympics. Like thetime we won SEA Games gold.

Dec 26, 2010 – the day Malaysia upstaged Indonesia with one of our greatest performances of all time. I will look back at this game for many years to come, along with millions of other Malaysians. I will be proud to say that I was there.

P.S. the song he was referring to is "Inilah Barisan Kita"
"Inilah barisan kita,
yang ikhlas berjuang,
siap sedia berkorban,
untuk ibu pertiwi,
andai kata kita gugur semua,
taburkanlah bunga di atas pusara,
kami mohon doa,
semboyan telah berbunyi,
menuju medan bakti"

P.P.S. support Malaysia in the 2nd leg of the finals!!!