Monday, October 17, 2011

When Young Samurai Meet Young Tigers

One of the most memorable achievements the Malaysia national football team has ever achieved was qualifying for 1972 Munich Olympics. The team got the Olympics ticket after beating Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Philippines en route. Although they managed to defeat the United States 3-0, they could not make it to the next round as they lost the other two matches 0-3 and 0-6 to West Germany and Morocco respectively. The Munich Olympics was that last time when Malaysia played any football match in Olympics.

Malaysia qualified again for Moscow Olympics in 1980. However, the team did not participate as a result of the boycotting due to Soviet War in Afghanistan. Ever since then, qualifying for a major international football tournament seems to be light years away for the Malaysia football team.

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The complimentary match tickets between the U-22 Japan versus U-22 Malaysia for the qualifying match of men's football 2012 London Olympics.

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Posing in front of the VIP entrance first before we enter the stadium.

However, the revival of the national team happened during the 2010 AFF Suzuki Cup, giving Malaysia their first major international title ever. For many years, Malaysians started to believe on the national team and fill the stadiums whenever the team is in action.

Back to the match in Tosu, we were told to get to the stadium on our own, as the minister and the rest of the delegates made their way to the stadium through the VIP entrance. We however, weren't sure which entrance should we take. So, we just told the driver to drop us at the VIP entrance, thinking that we might be allowed to use that entrance haha!

Yup, we got that kind of "very important people" feeling when we got down from the van exactly in front of the VIP entrance. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to enter from that entrance lol! So, in the end, we just practically followed the crowd and made our entrance to the stadium through the general gates.

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Got through the gate and asked a random Japanese girl to take this photo for us.

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Once we were in the stadium, everything was just blue, blue and blue.

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The electronic scoreboard showing the information of the match.

The stadium, which can fit 24,490 people was almost full when we made our way to our seats at the main stand. What was really great about our seats was that we were just a few meters away from the field. So, we could literally feel every action of the players on the pitch.

However, besides the five of us and several members from the press team, the rest of the Malaysian contingent were at another corner of the stadium. We were surrounded by sea of blue Samurai supporters around us, which made it hard for us to cheer for the Malaysia team due to our small numbers. Nevertheless, the Japanese there were really nice and it felt like we were watching a friendly match.

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The Malaysian team doing some warming up and stretching before the match starts in thirty minutes' time, under the supervision of 
assistant coach, Hassan Sazali and fitness coach Rastislav Bozik.

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Those are the Malaysian supporters, about hundred of them, at the south end.

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Negaraku, tanah tumpahnya darahku.

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Seeing me waving the Jalur Gemilang, the kiasu Japanese supporters unveiled their gigantic flag haha wtf!

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Singing of the national anthem of both nation. It always feels great to sing the Negaraku alongside your countrymen.

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Friendly hand-shakes before the battle begins.

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The Deputy President of the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) and Vice-President of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Executive Committee, Tengku Abdullah ibni Sultan Ahmad Shah, who was among the VVIP present to witness the match, seen here wishing good luck to the Malaysian bench.

Personally, it was my first time watching a football match in a stadium in Japan; and there is no better way than to watch the Young Samurai taking on our Young Tigers. The reality was very clear - Malaysia is ranked way below Japan in the FIFA ranking, however I was optimistic on the young boys' ability. Expecting for a win over the Japanese team on their home ground might be too much of an asking, so a draw against the Japanese would be considered a very good result.

And so, the match kicked-off to the loud cheers of the 22,504 supporters who were present on that evening.

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The Malaysian goalkeeper-cum-caption, Khairul Fahmi Che Mat giving words of encouragement before the kick-off.

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The referee from Qatar, Abdullah Dor Mohammad Balideh blew the whistle and it was Japan who started the first half.

It was a one-way traffic all the way though the first half. The Japanese were technically just too good and Malaysia were no match for their much superior opponent. The game plan of the Malaysian team appeared to get messed up, the players struggled to string up passes among themselves, and I could not remember them having a single shot on target. 

However, thankfully, the brilliance performance of "Apek", as he is better known among his teammates and fans, saved the blushes for Malaysia. The first half ended with the home team leading Malaysia by a single goal from Keigo Higashi in the tenth minute.

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The second half started and the Malaysian camp was hoping for a better performance in the next forty-five minutes.

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Defender Mohamad Fandi Othman surrounded by two Japanese players.

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The Japanese continued to search for more goals in the second half.

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The blue wave did not hinder our spirit to keep cheering for Malaysia.

Before the match started, the Japanese were expected to have an easy match against Malaysia, considered the weakest team in the group. Their aim was to start their campaign with a victory, or more accurately, a huge victory to build on a healthy goal difference before they play the other two much "stronger" teams. However, that did not happen; plus, the hard-working Malaysian team gave a much more improved play in the second half.

Despite the presence of thousands of Japanese supporters around us, it did not stop us from cheering for our national team. There were only about one hundred of us, but believe it or not, our "Malaysia Boleh" cheer was heard through the whole stadium. At one time, they even sang the song "Perajurit Tanah Air", which caught the Japanese by surprise. It was one of the most memorable moments that I will never forget.

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The stadium erupted to loud cheers when Japan scored their second goal.

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As the Japanese supporters celebrated, we just couldn't do much but offer a smile and quietly say, "Alamak!"

Khairul Fahmi stopped more than a dozen attempts from the fleet–footed Japanese players, however he was beaten again for the second time in the 77th minute. Substitute Ryohei Yamazaki, who came on to replace goal scorer Higashi in the 68th minute, side-footed home after Kensuke Nagai's knocked the ball into the path of the Jubilo Iwata forward.

The match ended with a 2-0 victory for Japan. Despite being outplayed by their opponents in a one-sided match, it was not all over yet for Malaysia, as they still have five more matches to try their best and win something. This match will only serve as a good learning curve for the young boys. Some people might disagree but I believe that there is still hope for Malaysian football, provided that this group of players is given proper care and management.

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It is always nice to see players shaking hands with each other after a match.

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Malaysian players thanking their supporters at the end of the match. One thing I guess the players need to improve on, is to learn how to appreciate
their supporters properly because on that night, they only waved to the fans from afar without making the effort to get closer to their supporters.

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It was quite different compared to the Japanese players, who went around the stadium to applaud their set of supporters. At least by doing so,
the supporters will feel their are appreciated.

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Having a group photo with some Japanese supporters.

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I was approached by these two young kids. The Mom told me that the elder one standing behind was among the kids who accompanied the players when they made their way to the pitch before the game. Her boy held Khairul Fahmi's hand when they entered the field.

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We met another Malaysian, Richie at the hotel. So the six of us went out for a late supper at Sennen-no Utage (千年の宴).

This is the end of my football journey in Kyushu. A memorable experience with great company. Thank you for reading. Next up will be my mini tour around Fukuoka city, so like usual, stay tuned!

2 comments:

Tempus said...

wah suites to watch football match. No one beats Japanese for that!

calvin said...

@ tempus:
haha! i suppose those guys in suites are salaryman, as they call them here, and went to see the match right after their work xD