NATIONAL coach K. Rajagopal hopes that the latest chapter in Malaysian football’s revival will not turn out to be another false dawn.
“We have gone through a dry spell for quite some time now – with the same old story and the same old blues,” said the former international after the national Under-23 squad defied the odds to reach the SEA Games men’s football final.
Malaysia, who will play against Vietnam tomorrow, are determined to end a 20-year gold drought in the biennial regional tournament. The last time Malaysia emerged as the champions was in 1989 in Kuala Lumpur.
Millions of ringgit have been spent to bring back the glory days but, even with the game having gone professional for more than a decade, the standard of Malaysian football has gone from bad to worse.
“All I hope is for the people to be patient with these boys,” said Rajagopal.
“Many questioned my selection of the Harimau Muda (national Under-19) players. What I am trying to say is that the coach has a different perception and needs time to develop the team.”
Rajagopal began working with the Under-19 boys two years ago and, today, Harimau Muda skipper and midfielder K. Gurusamy has begun to shine and has won a regular place in the Under-23 squad together with lanky centreback Mohd Muslim Ahmad.
Rajagopal said that when he was appointed national coach in February, he opted for a younger set of players too.
He named only two senior players for the qualifying round of the Asian Cup against Uzbekistan, which Malaysia lost 1-3 both at home and away.
But Malaysia, ranked 152nd in the FIFA list, did have a good outing in their build-up to the Laos Games. They lost to Asian powerhouse Saudi Arabia (1-2) in Riyadh and visiting English Premier League champions Manchester United (2-3, 0-2) but held Kenya and China to goalless draws.
“It is not easy to reason with a lot of people. But I am glad the results are beginning to show,” said Rajagopal.
“I hope people will continue to support our football no matter what the outcome. These boys are still in the learning process and they will surely mature,.
“I am sure the boys will give their best in the final. With their never-say-die attitude, urgency and high commitment, we hope they will bring success this time.
“But more important is the revival of Malaysian football.” STAR