World Cup: Where Malaysian football went wrong

L Jaiarajo of Bernama news service reflected on Malaysia's lost opportunities for World Cup action:

"For the record, the Malaysian squad had never made it to the World Cup finals although they did qualify for the 1972 and 1980 Olympics in Germany and Moscow respectively ... At the Munich Olympics in 1972, Malaysia put up a commendable show with host West Germany, managing to hold the Germans to a scoreless first half before succumbing to three goals with no reply in the final 45 minutes. They gained some measure of pride after defeating the United States 3-0 in the next game but were bundled out from playing in the next round ... The national side did not take part in the Moscow Olympics ... It was rather unfortunate as the Malaysian squad ... had beaten a strong South Korean side who featured players like Kim Jae Han and Cha Beum Kun, to qualify ...

In 1951, Tunku became the Football Association of Malaysia's president. FAM was inducted as a member of the Asian Football Confederation in 1954 before becoming a full-fledge member of FIFA two years later.T unku's love for the game was the catalyst for the construction of the Merdeka Stadium, and in 1957, it became the hallowed ground for all Malaysians when it was the venue to announce Malaya's independence.

During that time, Malaysia was also home to one of the oldest football events in the region, the Merdeka Tournament, held in conjunction with the country's independence in 1957. With such a head start over the others in the region, Malaysia was a leading football force and enjoyed success in the 60s right up to the early 80s.The best years of Malaysian football were undoubtedly from the early 1970s to the early 80s. Malaysia, Japan and South Korea were the three main rivals in Asia, each always treating one another with respect.

But while the Japanese and South Koreans have made quantum leaps since, to compete at the world stage, Malaysia's fortunes have taken a dip for the worst ... Malaysian team's ranking continue to slip from 118 to 127, lower than some of the poorest countries in the world like Sudan (97) and Ethiopia (112). With Malaysian football no longer able to dominate even at the Southeast Asian level, local football fans have slowly turned their interest to foreign leagues in Europe, especially the English Premier League as well as the Spanish and Italian Leagues.

Football critics put the blame on FAM's inefficient and autocratic management for the downfall of Malaysian football. There could be some truth to this as many foreign coaches, who met successes with other teams, had come and gone without making much headway ... But in all fairness, grooming a set of players for national duty is not the job of a national coach because a coach is not supposed to go into the very basics at that level ... Players must come through a structured development programme, which gives importance to ball skills above everything else.

Just look at where the Brazilians are with their exuberant ball skills. In Brazilian academies, which number in the thousands, the emphasis is on ball skills, like juggling. Endurance training takes a back seat in their early training years. The reason: Endurance can be acquired over a short period and at a later stage while learning ball skills at an advanced age might be difficult ...

Malaysian players, more often than not, are comfortable with playing for their respective states and have no desire to play at a different level unlike players from countries like Japan, South Korea or rising force China whose players are already making an impact in major leagues in Europe."

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