Back­ing the Tigers

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - R.AGE - by IAn yee

WITH a squad dec­i­mated by in­juries, and pow­er­houses China and Ja­pan in their group, the Asian Games will be ane­spe­cially dif­fi­cult test for our na­tional foot­ball team. It will be an equally big test for us, the sup­port­ers.

Right now, sup­port for Malaysian foot­ball is about as high as I’ve ever known it to be; thanks in no small part, I be­lieve, to the team’s spir­ited show­ing in the friendly against Manch­ester United (where our boys only lost to a late Michael Owen goal), their fairy-tale run to the 2009 SEA Games gold medal, and most re­cently, a con­fi­dence-boost­ing vic­tory over the South Korean Olympic side.

That sup­port seems to have spilled over to do­mes­tic foot­ball too. The re­cent Malaysia Cup didn’t just fill-up the 100,000seat­ing Bukit Jalil Na­tional sta­dium (as it does pretty much ev­ery year), it also got peo­ple talk­ing on cy­berspace, es­pe­cially Twit­ter, where peo­ple were declar­ing their al­le­giances and will­ing their teams on.

But it’s easy to sup­port a team dur­ing good times. It is, af­ter all, in­fin­itely more fun watch­ing a team that’s do­ing well and win­ning games. The test now at the Asian Games, it seems, would be whether the Malaysian fans will still sup­port their team when the go­ing gets tough.

Malaysia bagged an­other good re­sult in their first match on Mon­day, beat­ing Kyr­gyzs­tan 2-1; but this evening, they’ll be fac­ing a Ja­panese side fresh off a 3-0 drub­bing of China, who them­selves will now have some­thing to prove when they play us on Satur­day. It might get ugly.

I re­mem­ber in­ter­view­ing the twin ter­rors in the na­tional team, Mohd Zaquan Adha Ab­dul Razak and Mohd Aidil Za­fuan Ab­dul Razak, about two years ago, and they were telling me about the abuse their fam­ily had to en­dure at sta­di­ums some­times from Malaysian fans.

“We’re pro­fes­sion­als, and we’ve learned how to block out all the ter­ri­ble things they shout at us. It’s our fam­ily that we feel sorry for be­cause they at­tend most of our games to show sup­port, and they have to hear all these in­sults hurled at us,” said Aidil, who added that Malaysian fans had of­ten turned on them when re­sults weren’t go­ing their way.

But to be a real fan, a real sup­porter, you have to stick with your team through the bad times.

And as op­ti­mistic as I’m try­ing to be about our na­tional team’s chances at the Asian Games, luck has just not been on their side.

Coach K. Ra­jagobal lost six key play­ers to in­jury af­ter a long, hard do­mes­tic sea­son. The ca­su­alty list in­cludes al­most all his first choice de­fend­ers, and he’s had no choice but to se­lect two rookie goal­keep­ers for the squad. Hear­ing him speak at the launch of the new Nike na­tional team jersey just a day be­fore the team left for Guangzhou for their first match against Kyr­gyzs­tan on Mon­day, it felt like the prag­matic coach was al­ready try­ing to man­age ex­pec­ta­tions.

“We have no tar­gets,” he said, when asked how far he ex­pected his team to go in the com­pe­ti­tion. “What is im­por­tant is that the team plays well and gives their best.”

In­deed. But we’ve all been guilty of com­plain­ing and whing­ing when­ever the team hasn’t done well in the past, so I guess it’s only fair now that we show them even more sup­port for their valiant ef­forts.

They’ve al­ready ex­ceeded ex­pec­ta­tions on so many oc­ca­sions with their street-wise har­di­ness on the pitch, so who knows? They might just pull off an­other big up­set.

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