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Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Rajagopal hopes Malaysia will repeat magic of AFF 2010

PETALING JAYA: In 2010, the national football team went into the Suzuki Cup in dismal form.

They lost their warm-up matches to Oman (3-0) and Selangor (3-2) before suffering a 5-1 thumping at the hands of Indonesia in their Group A opener at the Gelora Bung Karno Stadium.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak (right top) speaking to the the national football team after their training for the Suzuki Cup at Wisma FAM under the watchful eyes of coach K. Rajagopal(on the left of Najib), November 21, 2012. GLENN GUAN/The Sta

Then, their luck changed. They held mighty Thailand to a goalless draw in the second match before thrashing Laos 5-1 to qualify for the knockout stage.

The rest is history as Malaysia surprised former champions Vietnam (2-0 on aggregate) in the semi-finals before upstaging fancied Indonesia (4-2 on aggregate) in the final.

That fairytale run brought the country together and reignited the nation’s passion for the national team after years of disenchantment due to poor performances and results.

A record 192 million viewers in key Asean markets tuned in to watch the 2010 Suzuki Cup – the region’s top national team football competition, according to official figures.

Even Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak sat on the streets with the football fans in Jalan Bukit Bintang, Kuala Lumpur, for a live viewing party when Malaysia played Indonesia away in the second-leg of the final.

He then declared a public holiday to celebrate Malaysia’s victory.

Now, two years later, Malaysia head into the tournament in almost similar fashion, having suffered more setbacks in four friendlies.

Datuk K. Rajagopal’s men lost 1-0 to Vietnam and 2-0 to Thailand and drew 1-1 with minnows Hong Kong and Bangladesh.

Can Malaysia go out and defy the odds once again?

Rajagopal certainly thinks so, provided they avoid another bad start.

“I have to admit that our results in the warm-up matches are bad but we have too keep moving forward … we can’t afford to be bogged down by poor results,” said the former international.

“All the players are downhearted whenever they lose or play badly. But it’s my duty to motivate them. I believe I’ve done a good job keeping them all fired up.”

Rajagopal is also hoping that the whole nation will be fully behind them when they open their campaign against Singapore at the National Stadium in Bukit Jalil tomorrow.

“We need the support from the fans when the competition starts. The whole country were behind us in 2010 … I hope they will be our 12th men at the stadium again.”

Meanwhile, FAM deputy president Tengku Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah has given the team a vote of confidence ahead of their opener against Singapore.

“I don’t want to judge the team yet … I’ll let the boys prove themselves against Singapore,” said Tengku Abdullah, who dropped by to watch the team train at Wisma FAM yesterday.

“A team’s strength does not only lie in the players, the supporters too play a vital role. We are hosting this competition and I hope our supporters will throng the stadium to support the team.”


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