Monday, November 21, 2011

Cry of the wounded Tiger

JAKARTA - Ong Kim Swee sat in the royal box at the Gelora Bung Karno Stadium on Saturday, witnessing his charges step out onto the pitch and earn themselves the right to defend their SEA Games title after beating Myanmar 1-0 in the semi-final of the Under-23 football competition.

But there has been nothing royal about the treatment Ong and his Malaysia team have received here in Jakarta.

From disrespectful jeering every time Malaysia's national anthem Negara Ku has been played at the stadium, to inflexible training slots allocated the team and being forced to wait two hours before being herded onto armoured trucks to exit the stadium, the SEA Games has not been a pleasant tournament for the Young Tigers.

The Indonesians are still hurting from their loss to Malaysia in last year's Suzuki Cup final and have been taking it out on the Young Tigers.

Ong will look to channel his team's frustrations out on the pitch today when they face hosts Indonesia in the final.

Speaking to Today, Ong, who was forced to watch from the stands after being sent off in the team's 1-0 win over Indonesia in the final Group A fixture, said yesterday: "I'm very angry, I tried to join my team at ground level after the semi-final and I was aggressively pushed back by security personnel like I was some sort of criminal.

"I will be writing a letter of complaint about that, but there have been so many problems here. If we do win the gold medal, it will be a big achievement - with a different kind value attached to it."

Ong and his team officials have kept a cool exterior in front of the players to help keep their minds on the football, but the line has been drawn in the sand.

"We expect harsh treatment from the crowd, but all we ask for is respect and fair play, not just in the game but from officials as well," said Ong, drawing attention to the training schedule allocated his team.

He asserted that while teams are not allowed to select the venues where they train, the normal procedure was to choose their own training slots before the start of international tournaments like this. "For the last three games, we did all our tactical training sessions at a grass patch within the hotel compound, and that also happened at the AFF Suzuki Cup last year," said Ong.

The Malaysia seniors played their group matches in the Suzuki Cup here, and beat the home side 5-1 over two legs in the final to win their first ASEAN championship, to go with the 2009 SEA Games gold.

Malaysia are likely to be without four players tonight - all nursing injuries - including forward Izzaq Faris Ramlan and the impressive speedy winger, Syahrul Azwari.

They also have to fly home immediately after the medal presentation ceremony tonight, with an Olympic qualifier against Syria on Wednesday to think about.

Ong expects Indonesian fans to continue to boo and jeer tonight when the Negara Ku rings out before kick-off.

He will use it as part of his plan to channel all the built up negative energy in the Malaysian team to where it matters.

"This match will be all about psychology," he said, pointing to his head and heart. "I already know what to say to my players before they step out, to provoke them into playing better."

Shamir Osman

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