Soh Chin Ann: record breaker

After breaking the world caps record, Kuwait’s skipper has a new rival

- John Duerden

On June 25, Bader Al- Mutawa became the most capped male footballer of all time, making his 185th internatio­nal appearance for Kuwait. By August, he’d already lost his record – to a rather unexpected source.

Al- Mutawa was officially recognised by FIFA this summer as the winner of a three- man race to surpass Ahmed Hassan as the internatio­nal caps record holder – Hassan made his 184th and final appearance for Egypt in 2012, and a trio of players had been closing in on that mark in recent times.

Oman’s Ahmed Mubarak and Spain’s Sergio Ramos both stopped short at 180 after being dropped by their respective national teams, allowing Al- Mutawa to claim the record in a 2- 0 defeat to Bahrain. The 36- year- old frontman has always played his club football in the Middle East, but came close to joining Nottingham Forest in 2012.

Cristiano Ronaldo has also been closing in, at 179 caps – but a giant curveball was soon thrown into the mix courtesy of Malaysia legend Soh Chin Ann.

The defender played his final internatio­nal game in 1984, but a campaign began this summer for the 71- year- old to be acknowledg­ed as the world record holder. Statistics suggested he lined up 222 times for Malaysia, well beyond Al- Mutawa’s record, but FIFA had never recognised the figure – some games were Olympic qualifiers; some were unclassifi­ed friendlies.

Born in 1950, in what was then British Malaya, Soh made his internatio­nal debut in 1969 and represente­d his country for 15 years, during a golden period for the national team. His defensive partnershi­p with Santokh Singh was one of the best in Asia, in an era when the side faced Arsenal in a friendly, and also took on a strong England B team.

He turned out for Malaysia at the 1972 Olympics in Munich and captained them as they qualified for the 1980 event – the story of which was immortalis­ed in a popular film called Ola Bola – but they never travelled to Moscow after joining a US boycott. The team have struggled to reach the same heights, and were ranked 153rd in the world recently. So, having the globe’s most- capped player is a badge of honour.

The Football Associatio­n of Malaysia have been busily working behind the scenes to get Soh officially named as the number one - the man himself briefly became a politician after his retirement as a player, and told FFT he couldn’t discuss the situation while it was still being resolved.

“I’m not bothered whether I have the record or not,” he insisted when he spoke to us. But by early August, the Malaysian FA announced that FIFA have now recognised their man as having 195 caps, a new record. Legendary goal- getter Mokhtar Dahari, who terrorised Arsenal in 1975 but died at the age of 37, has also had his official caps haul revised upwards to 138, with Shukor Salleh on 163.

It’s all bad news for Al- Mutawa and Ronaldo. The race to overhaul Ahmed Hassan proved to be in vain.

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