My heart says Malaysia can go far. My head begs to differ.
I've gone on record to say Malaysia's chances of ending the 20-year wait for the SEA Games gold medal in football are slim, maybe as slim as the Jacob's Low Salt Hi-Fibre biscuit cracker I'm consuming at this moment.
At best we can expect a semi-final appearance in Laos, that's all. Even if the team can brag they scored 11 goals in the opening tie against Timor Leste a short while ago.
And what a way to start the campaign eh...no, not the 11-0 whitewash of Timor Leste but the events leading to the team's departure from the Subang Airforce base...
PETALING JAYA: The national Under-23 men’s football team for the Laos SEA Games were left grounded for nearly six hours at the TUDM Subang Base yesterday before their chartered flight to Vientiane was called off after a long delay in getting diplomatic clearance.
It was a bad start for the Malaysian team, who wanted to have at least two days to familiarise with the conditions in Vientiane before their opening match in Group A against Timor Leste tomorrow.
The 28-member contingent, including eight officials, checked into the Air Force base at 9am and went through the normal briefing procedures by TUDM personnel. But much to their discomfort, they had to endure the long wait before the flight was aborted.
The FA of Malaysia (FAM) general secretary, Datuk Azzuddin Ahmad, who was at the base to send off the team, made attempts to obtain diplomatic clearance from Laos and finally got it at 4.30pm.
“It was too late for the team to leave as they do not provide night landing facilities at the base in Vientiane. The team will now leave at 8am tomorrow (today),” said Azzuddin.
“We made all arrangements 10 days ago for this flight to Laos and we are surprised over the delay. We have alerted Wisma Putra (Home Ministry) and the Foreign Ministry on the matter.”
National coach K. Rajagopal said that they had no choice but to train at the Wisma FAM in Petaling Jaya yesterday.
“I have told the players not to be distracted by this delay.
“Due to unavoidable circumstances, we have to be prepared for anything,” he said.
“We checked into a hotel, courtesy of the FAM, and I am glad the problem has been sorted out and we will make the trip tomorrow morning.”
The football competition of the 25th biennial Games gets underway before the official opening on Dec 9 and Malaysia have a tough task to qualify for the semi-finals.
After the match against Timor Leste, Malaysia will take on fancied Vietnam on Sunday followed by matches against Cambodia (Dec 8) and defending champions Thailand (Dec 11). Group B matches involve Laos, Myanmar, Singapore and Indonesia.