OPINION: Thank you, Chatchai. No, seriously.

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Pakawich Damrongkiattisak
Malaysia fans might have felt slighted by Thailand goalkeeper Chatchai Budprom's remark, but it's hard to imagine the media complaining about it.


BY        ZULHILMI ZAINAL       Follow on Twitter


The second leg AFF Championship semi-final clash between Thailand and Malaysia earlier this week is undoubtedly one of the most memorable clashes in the tournament.

The proceedings on the Rajamangala Stadium pitch alone would have ensured that reputation, with two equalisers, one magnificent goal, a late penalty and sending off, and a penalty miss, but off-the-pitch matters surrounding the clash made it a classic.

In the pre-match press conference that was held one day earlier, Thailand goalkeeper Chatchai Budprom remarked through an interpreter that the home team would make the match a torrid experience for the visitors, a statement that was even garnished with a theatrical table slap:

"This is Thailand, this is the home of the War Elephants. Today, I wish them (Malaysia) a good night's sleep, because tomorrow we will give them a nightmare."

Some headlines just write themselves, and the Malaysian media evidently agreed that this is one of those occassions, and led their coverage of the encounter with variations of Chatchai's remark.

Malaysia fan social media pages too picked up on this, riled up at the seemingly arrogant sentiment expressed by the custodian.

Our Thai Goal colleagues from meanwhile were apprehensive towards the statement, as according to them this boastful behaviour is not condoned in Thai football.

When the Malaysian journalists who made the trip to Bangkok interviewed the visiting team players later that day, their questions were understandably on their response towards the incendiary remark.

Tan Cheng Hoe's charges however were media savvy enough, and deflected the challenge back towards the issuer. Mohamadou Sumareh for example told Goal that the goalkeeper had made the remark in an attempt to unsettle them, because it is the home team that was under pressure.

But that was not to be the end of it. Chatchai doubled down on his provocation during the match itself; he reportedly gestured at the away fans when his team scored the opening goal, and provoked the Malaysia bench when the War Elephants got their second and were awarded the late penalty in the second half.

And when Adisak Kraisorn skied his spot kick and the whistle was blown with Malaysia the winners, several of the Harimau Malaya unused substitute players surrounded the goalkeeper to celebrate right in his face.

Fortunately, Chatchai knew how to lose gracefully, and how to take it as well as he had been dishing it. It's hard not to feel a certain kind of satisfaction, as well as admiration, when watching his "Yes, I probably deserve this" expression during the brief, up close and personal Malaysian retaliation.

And it was also commendable how no one from either side took the celebrations and mockery further from where it needed to be. There were friendly handshakes all around, and the match ended in an orderly fashion.

Perhaps it is difficult to ascertain the effect of the goalkeeper's incendiary remark on Malaysia players' desire to win in Bangkok, but surely there were not many reporters and journalists who complained about his headline-friendly antic, in a region where players and coaches are careful of what they say in public to the point of sterility.

Malaysian coaches and players for example can sometimes be guilty of couching their remarks in a shroud of ambiguity. Instead of saying outright whether they are going to play for a win or a draw, they would come out with the tried and tested "We're going to do our best out there", or more recently; "We want to get a positive result."

They can't be wholly blamed for this behaviour, in a culture where a statement of intent can be miscontrued as a promise, or even worse, a boast, especially when the statement is reproduced in text absent intonation and facial expressions. Not to mention, the failure to produce what one set out to achieve is often met with derision in Malaysian football. It is understandable why Malaysian coaches and managers choose to play the media game on the safe side almost everytime.

As a result, it can be quite tough for media in Malaysia to sell their football stories, if one goes by the 'controversy sells' adage.

Now don't take this too seriously, but maybe the ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) should consider making it compulsory for teams to trash talk their opponents for one minute in their pre-match pressers, just to generate a bigger buzz in the next edition. After all, the federation has decided to hold a majority of this edition's group matches on weekdays instead of on the weekends. Stranger things may happen.

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