JAKARTA, Nov 18 (Bernama) -- Since the SEA Games began in Bangkok in 1959 (it was known as the SEAP Games then), the 100m sprint had been the focus as the success of the overall games champion would not be complete without the highly priced gold medal in the event.
The event made names like M. Jegathesan from Malaysia, Anat Rattanapol from Thailand and C.Kunalan from Singapore renowned and were always darlings in the SEA Games of their times.
However, the 100m race is not no longer the pride of the Games. Now the media themselves are giving less publicity to the athlete bestowed as the fastest man in the Asean region.
On the other hand, the most sought after gold medal now in the eyes of various groups is the men's football.
Former Thai coach, Steve Darby who admitted that Thailand's defeat to Malaysia in the quarterfinal of the SEA Games in Laos two years ago was extremely disappointing even though Thailand emerged as the overall games champion.
For 36 years, Thailand had consistently qualified for the semi-final but the Malaysian squad under the guidance of Datuk K.Rajagobal demolished their outstanding streak.
Minister of Youth and Sports Datuk Seri Ahmad Shabery Cheek also took pains to remind the players on the prestige attached to the football gold medal.
"For many countries, the overall games championship would be incomplete without the football gold medal," he told the squad last week.
Malaysia won the football competition at the Laos Games and a year later lifted the Asean Football Federation (AFF) Cup.
Despite the consecutive successes, the media in the neighbouring countries have belittled the Harimau Muda squad of Malaysia.
According to them, the success of Malaysia as Laos SEA Games football champions with a 1-0 defeat over Vietnam was the result of an own goal while in the AFF Cup, Malaysia were lucky to win on their own turf.
In the current 26th SEA Games in Indonesia, the pyschological warfare continues.
Each time the Harimau Muda squad plays at Gelora Bung Karno Stadium, the Malaysians will be greeted by a jeering crowd.
Maybe it had dawned upon the Indonesian sports fans that even though they are on the threshold of being the Games champion, they will find the victory hollow if they do not win the football gold medal.
In their pre-Indonesia/Malaysia match comments, the Indonesian media had discussed over television how important it was to crush Malaysia.
The hype up by the Indonesian media to incite the fanatical supporters was however not agreeable to senior Indonesian player, Bambang Pamungkas.
According to a daily tabloid, United & Rising, which is distributed during the Games, Bambang asked the media and fans not to be over excited and put undue pressure their under 23 team.
He took the example of the Indonesian media coverage in ther campaign for the AFF Cup in which they praised their national team and exerted tremendous pressure on the team as possible reasons why they lost to Malaysia.
"Now the Under 23 squad are on their way to success but the intense coverage is affecting their concentration.
"During the 2010 AFF Cup, the media praised us as if we were already the champion resulting in us being swollen headed. The fact was we did not win and we lost to Malaysia," he said.
Last night, Indonesian fans wanted the Garuda squad to demolish Harimau Muda but a solitary goal by Syahrul Azwari Ibrahim which made Malaysia top Group A, turned the atmosphere eerily quiet at Gelora Bung Karno stadium.
With the win, Malaysia as champions of Group A will meet Myanmar, the runner up of Group B while Indonesia whore were runner-up of Group A will meet Group B champion Vietnam, the silver medallists at the last SEA Games.
From Zulhilmi Supaat