By Keeshaanan Sundaresan
Staying undefeated throughout their five friendly matches from January to June, The Malayan Tigers could not march into the third round of World Cup qualifiers after losing a tightly contested affair against rivals Singapore over two legs.
Nevertheless, their Under-23 team stole the limelight as far as 2011 was concerned. Despite being regarded as minnows prior to the South East Asian (SEA) Games, Ong Kim Swee’s charges responded in style by retaining their gold medal. Better still, they managed to book a spot in the final round of the Olympic qualifiers, although successive defeats to Japan, Syria and Bahrain have left their qualification hopes hanging in the balance.
|DOMESTIC LEAGUES AND CUPS
The Malaysian Super League enthralled, with Kelantan FA emerging champions under the guidance of experienced coach Dato’ M. Karathu. Terengganu came in close behind but the Turtles finished three points adrift in second place with Selangor claiming third.
While the Turtles finished second in the Super League, their superiority shone in the FA Cup final as they outclassed Kelantan 2-1 after extra time in dramatic fashion. It was a revenge mission accomplished for Irfan Bakti’s men after seeing Kelantan pip them to the league title.
After the league and FA Cup wound down, it was all about the Malaysia Cup. Terengganu progressed into the final to cap a superb year for them, but facing Negri Sembilan was a whole different story. Despite dispatching heavyweights Kelantan and Selangor during the quarter and semi-finals, Irfan Bakti’s men could not replicate their terrific form as Negri denied them of a famous double with a 2-1 win on the day.
2011 was a prosperous year for Malaysian players who attempted to scale bigger heights in football. Safee Sali, whose goals were deciding factors in their AFF Suzuki Cup triumph, was signed by Indonesian side Pelita Jaya. He scored a total of seven goals in 13 appearances in his first season and has been named as team captain in the ongoing Indonesian Super League season.
The Malaysian trio of Fadhli Shas, Wan Zack Wan Haikal and Irfan Fazail were also snapped up on loan by Slovakian club FC ViOn Moravce for three months. However, the trio barely featured with only three appearances shared among them.
|PLAYER OF THE YEAR | Khairul Fahmi Che Mat (Kelantan FA, U-23)
The Malaysian shot-stopper was in excellent form throughout the year, playing an integral part in Kelantan’s league triumph as well as the Under-23 team’s victory in the SEA Games. He is not the tallest of individuals but his flexibility between the sticks has propelled him to greater heights. His performances for both club and country did nothing but indicate that Khairul Fahmi is now the nation’s No. 1 goalkeeper by more than a mile.
|MOMENT OF THE YEAR | SEA Games victory for U-23
They were largely unrecognised prior to the South East Asian Games, but under the guidance of Ong Kim Swee and skipper Baddrol Bakthiar, the Young Tigers shone admirably as they outclassed the resilient Indonesians on penalties in the final. Not only did they beat the Young Garudas twice during the tournament, but the emergence of Nazmi Faiz and Syahrul Azwari instilled faith in the fans as well.
|WISHES FOR MALAYSIAN FOOTBALL IN 2012
As far as domestic football action is concerned, the re-introduction of foreign players is likely to generate lots of interest and the quality of football will rise. Nostalgic rivalries will also be renewed with Singapore returning to the league after a long hiatus. For now, it appears that Malaysian football is on its way for some real treats in 2012.
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