Backing the Tigers
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.