He is one of the nation’s footballing legends yet Datuk N. Thanabalan is never one to blow his trumpet.
Thanabalan was the hero when Malaysia won the 1968 Merdeka Cup. The Selangor stalwart scored eight times in only six matches – including once in the final when Myanmar (then Burma) were beaten 3-0 at Merdeka Stadium.
The same year, he became one of only 10 players to score a hattrick in a Malaysia Cup final.
Fast forward to 2018, the 75-year-old still keeps a watchful eye on the national team’s performance. While delighted with their outing at the Asian Games, he has some advice.
“Do not get carried away. Yes, our Under-23 team beat South Korea and narrowly lost to Japan but this does not mean they will automatically qualify for the 2020 Olympics,” said Thanabalan, who was the guest of honour at Ulu Klang Recreation Club (UKRC) veterans tournament press conference yesterday.
“We have a good bunch of players, but the Olympics is a different level. South Korea, Japan and the other teams have started their preparations, so we must not rest on our laurels or think we will qualify easily.”
To qualify for the Tokyo Olympics, national Under-23 coach Datuk Ong Kim Swee’s boys need to be in the top three of the 2020 AFC Under-23 Championship.
Malaysia made the quarterfinals of that tournament this year, so to go a step further in the next two years is achievable.
“Anything is possible, but I would like to reiterate we should not get carried away.”
“It is good the fans are excited, but the boys need to focus and train harder.
“Success is not handed to you. You need to work hard.”
He also warned the Harimau Muda players not to get swollen headed.
“I was delighted we beat South Korea as it has been a long time since we beat them at the Asian Games (1974 in Teheran).
“It was sad they could not hold on against Japan in the round of 16 but they must learn from this.
“They have to keep their feet on the ground. Stay humble and more importantly, stay hungry.”
Meanwhile, UKRC president Andrew Gopal said 12 teams including defending champions HTC SC Kuala Lumpur have confirmed their participation for the UKRC International Soccer 9s this weekend.
Six foreign teams – Gold Coast Koalas, Brisbane Lions and The Pirates (Australia), Indonesia’s Bintang Timur, Thailand’s ZeeNior and Football Referees Association of Singapore – will battle Kixx-Sabah Old Boys, Penampang Old Boys (Sabah), Harimau Mega (Johor), Beluga FC, Penang Sports Club and HTC (Kuala Lumpur) for the trophy.
“Although we still do not have a proper ‘home’ due to our ongoing legal battle for the UKRC field, the show must go on,” said Andrew.
“There are many more teams who want to play in the tournament but we decided to cap it to just 12.
“Those who compete, come for the fellowship which is one of the main aims of the tournament.”
The tournament will be held at Setiawangsa Sports Complex as UKRC has been battling the Selangor government after the Ampang Jaya Municipal Council took control of the field in 2013.
Since then, it has been unplayable as it was poorly maintained.