BY ZULHILMI ZAINAL Follow on Twitter
Among the many lessons that can be picked up from Malaysia's recent run in the SEA Games; one of the most prominent ones is how the fans' support could help carry the team to the finish line.
Much has been written about the role of Malaysia's most vocal supporters; Ultras Malaya in leading the home fans' support everytime they played in the tournament, and more still on their absence from the final match, due to a ticketing fiasco. Sadly, the hosts lost 1-0 to Thailand in the final; the same match given the snub by the ultra. Now before anyone responds "correlation does not imply causation", let it be known that that is not the point of this article. The past is the past.
The only reminder that the ultras had been supporting the team in the tournament; a banner in the final match
But what lies in the very near future can still be changed. This Tuesday, the Malaysia senior team will take on Hong Kong in their second Asian Cup qualification group match, a match they must win in order to keep their hopes of qualifying for the finals alive.
And Lord knows the senior side need all the help they can get, having gone six consecutive matches without a win, with their last win coming on 20 November last year, against Cambodia.
This year the senior team have played twice at home, with both matches recording attendance figures that are nothing to write home about.
In their 2-1 defeat to Lebanon at Larkin in their first Asian Cup qualifiers group match in June, 6,850 fans were present. On August 22, in their 2-1 friendly defeat to Syria at the Hang Jebat Stadium, no official figures were released, but estimates put the attendance at over 2,000.
If the stadium had been half as packed as the Shah Alam Stadium was in Malaysia U22 1-0 SEA Games semi-final win against Indonesia, with the fans making half the noise, as they did against Indonesia, it would not be improbable to imagine that the slim senior team defeats could have ended differently, at least in draws.
This is especially addressed towards the fans who took the time and spent money to not just come to the stadium in the SEA Games, but to also lend their voices to the ultras throughout the tournament, in making sure that the stadium was a source of power for the hosts.
This effect too has been acknowledged multiple times by Malaysia U22 head coach Datuk Ong Kim Swee and his charges.
However, their job is not done as the Malaysia senior team need their vocal support this Tuesday, in a match that should actually be regarded as a bigger priority for all Malaysian fans.
Although the capacity of the Hang Jebat Stadium is not as huge as Shah Alam's, fans need not worry about ticket availability. For all the flak that the Malaysian FA has been receiving over the years, fans can count on the assumption that their ticket sales system will not be as shoddy as the method of sales employed for the SEA Games final last Tuesday.