Goal.com Malaysia's Chief Editor, Falah Abdullah gives his insights on Malaysia's AFF Suzuki Cup 2012 campaign
By Falah Abdullah
Heartbreak. A simple but yet precise two syllable word to describe what I felt watching all of the “King’s” men fall to the mighty War Elephants from the stands of Supachalasai Stadium, Bangkok.
So, who’s to blame for this calamitous defeat? Mr Lee Minhu? The South Korean referee who sent Fadhli Shas off acrimoniously?
Well, I will give Mr Lee a partial yes as when Fadhli Shas (arguably Malaysia’s best performing defender during the tournament) was sent off for a highly dubious incident, the outlook of the game was completely changed.
But, let’s look at the bigger picture here. What really went wrong for our Malayan Tigers this time around?
The elephant in the room was the failure of our central midfield.
For me personally I think Safiq Rahim is a marvelous midfielder, however within the national squad there are no natural creative central midfielders who can provide a healthy competition for him to strive to improve his performances. Safiq was superb against Laos and Indonesia, but was nonchalant against Singapore and Thailand.
This issue brings us to one familiar name: Badri Radzi. Here’s a guy who led Kelantan to win everything domestically but somehow was overlooked for the national team.
At the age of 30, he’s arguably at the peak of his career and would be the most suitable candidate to compete with Safiq for the playmaker role, or would even be suited to partner him at the centre of the midfield. Now that’s a scary thought for the opponents!
Let’s move over to the incredible off-field scenes involving our national team. Our potent strike duo, Safee Sali and Norshahrul Idlan were embroiled with transfer sagas with the team many are now calling the Paris Saint Germain of Malaysian football, Johor.
Norshahrul was involved in a long running tug of war between his former employers Kelantan, and new club Johor. This unfortunate event was allowed to run up until the tournament.
The Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) did intervene in the end (after the 3-0 drubbing to Singapore to be exact), but it was too little too late.
Safee on the other hand was signed by Johor at the midst of the preparations for our big game against Thailand at the Bukit Jalil Stadium. Could you blame Johor for pulling off such a move? Not from my point of view.
The deadline for the Malaysian transfer window was strangely set at 6th December and Johor have the rights to exercise their options of signing Malaysia’s chief goal-getter. All’s fair in love and war.
Lest we forget, Khairul Fahmi Che Mat also chose an unfortunate timing to announce his wedding. He’s not in the wrong to do just that as the religion of Islam itself encourages the constitution of marriage. But the method and the timing of this (three days before the tournament) were just not right.
These incidents, although not fully responsible for our semi final exit, did play a part in disrupting team harmony at the very least.
The positives from this year’s edition of the AFF Suzuki Cup were the impressive performances of Harimau Muda A players, Fadhli Shas, Mahali Jasuli, and Wan Zack Haikal.
These three outperformed their contemporaries with outstanding displays that belied their young ages. Fadhli has proven that he is a rock of a centreback who has strong physique and bravery.
Though his defensive performances left a lot to be desired against Thailand, Mahali is undeniably light years ahead of his rival for the right back spot, Bunyamin Umar.
Wan Zack was the revelation of this year’s tournament. He is not in the mould of Azamuddin Akil or Rajagobal’s favorite Kunanlan, who are traditional pacey wingers with one thing on their minds - to cross the ball. The young winger represents a new breed of wingers who have pace, flair and dribbling abilities. He is the type of winger that fullbacks hate to mark, he is a bag of surprises.
What about the senior players you might ask? The two that stepped up were undeniably: Norshahrul Idlan and Farizal Marlias.
Norshahrul played alone upfront against the Thais and scored a goal even though he was up against a wall of three everytime he touched the ball. The fouls committed against him in the return leg in Bangkok were barbaric to say the least. But he soaked it all up and managed to pose a threat to a seemingly invincible Kawin-led defence.
It is safe to say that he justifies his tag as the triple winner of the Malaysian League’s Most Valuable Player.
Farizal on the other hand lost his spot to Khairul Fahmi two years ago due to an injury he suffered and yes, he did make up for that lost time with commanding performances in goal. If not for his reflexes, we would have conceded more than the two goals in Bangkok.
Last but not least, this editorial would not be complete without mentioning the steely performances of Kelantan’s hardman, Shakir Shaari. His presence was sorely missed by our midfield against the Thais who had Datsakorn Thanglao running rings around Amar Rohidan.
That’s it folks, our two year reign as the Kings of Southeast Asian football have ended but with wonderkinds such as Nazmi Faiz, Irfan Fazail and Rozaimi Abdul Rahman still waiting in the wings, the future bodes well for our next venture into AFF Suzuki Cup 2014.
But, do you think that wily Rajagobal is the right man to lead this talented bunch into greater heights?