Malaysia qualifies for Asian Cup on merit – ‘So?’ ‘And?’

It was a historic moment for the Malaysian football team. A 4-1 win over Bangladesh on home soil last night earned Harimau Malaya a place in next year’s Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Asian Cup.

The last time Malaysia qualified on merit for the competition was in 1980. Malaysia participated in the 2007 edition as one of the four host nations. The only other time Malaysia qualified for the Asian Cup was in 1976.

Fans thronged the National Stadium in Bukit Jalil. It took Malaysia a generation to play beyond Southeast Asia.

There was plenty of chatter by proud football fans on social media. But those were just bubbles of conversations by enthusiasts.

Equally amazing is how many are now trying to take credit for the team’s success. However, no one is eager to take responsibility for the repeated failures over the years.

Conversations regarding Malaysia’s win outside the social media sphere were somewhat muted, considering the significance of the win.

“So?” and “And?” were the typical replies, after sharing that the current Malaysian players had made history.

Some jokingly asked if there was a public holiday, as state governments have announced special public holidays whenever their state teams won a domestic trophy.

One commented: “Buang duit rakyat je gi Piala Asia.” (A waste of public funds playing in the Asian Cup).

The scathing remarks against Malaysian football – among the handful of sports capable of raising funds – are due to leaders who often take advantage of (and abuse) the sport’s popularity by allocating millions to the stakeholders, in hopes that it would translate into votes.

Earlier this year, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob announced that the government would give the FA of Malaysia RM10 million for development. This is in addition to the tens of millions of ringgit in taxpayers’ money already spent on development programmes over the years.

The less-than-favourable reaction could be due to the countless heartbreaks that fans have had to endure for decades.

The systemic failure of the sport has seen Malaysia struggling to make an impression in Southeast Asia, a far cry from its fearsome reputation in the 80s. Now, the national team often lurks in the shadows of regional powerhouses Vietnam and Thailand.

Some say that while qualification means Malaysia would play among the elite, the team would only be making up the numbers.

Once again, the lack of trust in the capabilities of the Malaysian team is evident.

There was more buzz and conversations among Malaysians when English club Liverpool won the League and FA Cups, and missed out on the Premier League and Champions League.

There were also many conversations when Malaysian shuttlers lost to eventual winner India, in the Thomas Cup.

Not having a trophy to celebrate qualifying made it seem like Malaysia had lost out in showcasing silverware.

Admittedly, football is not everyone’s cup of tea.

However, let’s not deny the fact that these footballers have achieved something. At the very least, they deserve a pat on their backs.

The negativity, if it continues, would only see more people shunning the sport. The situation must be addressed immediately.

Stakeholders should no longer live in a bubble, believing that all is well.

More conversations about the national team will naturally inject some pride into Malaysians, encouraging more youngsters to be part of the sport – on or off the field.

The footballers who booked a ticket to the biggest stage in the region are not just heroes on the field. They should serve as inspiration.

Let’s treasure the moment and revel in this victory, but don’t forget that we need to work harder at the grassroots to ensure continuity.

Let’s not wait for another 42 years before qualifying for the AFC Asian Cup.

List of Malaysian players who competed in the recent AFC Asian Cup qualifiers

Goalkeepers: Ahmad Syihan Hazmi, Farizal Marlias, Khairulazhan Khalid

Defenders: Shahrul Saad, Dion Cools, La’Vere Lawrence, Corbin Ong, V. Ruventhiran, Putera Nadher Amarhan, Dominic Tan, Ahmad Khuzaimi Piee.

Midfielders: Mohamed Syamer Kutty, Muhamad Nor Azam, Safiq Rahim, Nazmi Faiz, Muhammad Akhyar Rashid.

Forwards: Matthew Davies, Mohamad Faisal Halim, Muhammad Safawi Rasid, Arif Aiman Hanapi, Muhammad Syafiq Ahmad, Dion Cools, Darren Lok, Mohamadou Sumareh, Guilherme De Paula.

Coach: Kim Pan-gon

Main image: FA of Malaysia