BY ZULHILMI ZAINAL Follow on Twitter
After the 2018 AFC U-16 Championship ended with Japan edging Tajikistan 1-0 in the final match, hosts Malaysia ended with a consolation prize.
Striker Luqman Hakim Shamsudin ended the tournament as joint top-scorer with five goals, alongside Australia's Noah Botic and Japan's Shoji Toyama.
He was presented with the award after the final match on Sunday, which was held at the Bukit Jalil National Stadium.
Incredibly, unlike Botic and Toyama, Luqman recorded his tournament tally in fewer outings. Malaysia failed past to advance past the group stage, while Luqman himself only played in two matches, with his last match in the tournament taking place two whole weeks before the final match.
Malaysia had opened their campaign in blistering fashion, thumping eventual finalists Tajikistan 6-2 in the opener, with the forward scoring four goals in the victory.
Malaysia vs Tajikistan highlights
He added his fifth in the following game, against neighbours Thailand, but it was all downhill from there for him and Malaysia. In the second half Luqman was shown a straight red for a clumsy challenge, and ten-man Malaysia would lose 4-2 in the encounter. Missing his clinical finishing in their next group match, a must-win clash against Japan, the Young Tigers would go on to lose 2-0 meekly to the eventual champions, and exit the tournament, nowhere near their objective of reaching the semis to qualify for the 2019 World Cup U-17.
In comparison, Toyama and Botic both played in five matches for their respective sides.
Although the achievement may have provided Malaysian fans with some optimisim at what the future might hold, it surely has also made them wonder of what might have been, had the host team played less recklessly in their first two matches.
Cruising 5-1 against Tajikistan, goalkeeper Sikh Izhan Nazrel Sikh Azman was shown a red card for a needless lunge, and Malaysia were without him against Thailand. Second custodian Abdul Alim Al Amri Ali failed to perform as confidently as Izhan, and committed repeated goalkeeping mistakes that allowed the Thais to score four goals in the clash.
But all is not over for Luqman and his National Football Development Programme cohort, as they have shown that they have the potential to advance to the older age groups. While the future of the programme itself is being debated currently, the youth footballers must be allowed to continue their training and progress.
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