Daunting task for Malaysia in do-or-die AFF Cup match against Indonesia this Sunday

The Asean Football Federation (AFF) Cup is on a knife’s edge for Malaysia, runners-up in the previous edition.

Malaysia started this campaign with two wins, albeit against teams they were expected to beat, Cambodia and Laos, before they got a reality check by Vietnam – losing 3-0.

At this stage, Malaysia is tied on points with Vietnam and Indonesia, having played a game more than the aforementioned teams. Malaysia must beat Indonesia this Sunday to qualify for the semi-final.

I was fortunate enough to obtain tickets to watch Malaysia play against Laos and Vietnam, courtesy of former Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) technical director, Peter De Roo.

There were contrasting emotions at the end of both matches, one ended in joy and the other in dismay.

However, truth be told, the two wins Malaysia had, papered over the cracks. The Malaysian national team was on an upward trajectory that started with the last edition of the AFF Cup and spilled over into the first half of the World Cup qualifiers before Covid-19 struck and brought the world to a standstill.

Since then, the strange and somewhat “forced” inclusion of naturalised players Liridon Krasniqi and Guilherme De Paula into the squad created instability and upset the dynamics of the team.

There was controversy on this matter in the tournament, when De Paula was substituted – to cheers from the Malaysian fans. He proceeded to stare down at them, and slammed a water bottle onto the ground.

Akhyar Rashid had also commented that the victory against Cambodia was made sweeter by the presence of more local players in the starting line-up, which hinted at the disunity within the team.

It did come as a surprise to me though, that in the matches that I watched, the Malaysian fans had cheered for De Paula, showing him support with the rendition of “De Paula, we love you”.

I found that perplexing, as he had done nothing to show that he deserved the love, or to be in the squad, wearing the Malaysian jersey.

It had been suggested to me that the squad selection of this AFF Cup had been undermined by the meddling of “someone powerful”, and that the selection of De Paula had been forced on national football coach, Tan Cheng Hoe.

Tan had earlier made some shocking omissions from his squad, and the decision to bring just 24 players instead of 30 is haunting him now, amid Covid-19 and injury-enforced absentees.

As a result, he is fitting square pegs into round holes to make them fit.

Dion Cools was selected, but is only expected to join the team for the match against Indonesia, which might be too late, and thus, an unwise decision to select him.

Tan, however, deserves credit for the football he plays with the team and the work he has done with the national outfit since his appointment.

In this edition of the AFF Cup, he is the only local manager of a national team, a fact that Malaysian supporters can be proud of.

However, if the rumours of meddling are true, then it will inevitably lead to a sad conclusion for him, which is his sacking if Malaysia fails to make it out of the group stage.

For now, he has put on a brave face and backed the players in the squad, making do with the resources he has available to him.

We shall wait and see with bated breath if that is enough for us to overcome Indonesia in the Nusantara Derby.

Ayuh Malaysiaku, kita mesti menang!

This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Twentytwo13.