IT is time to bury the ghosts of 2001. With N. Thanabalan on a hot streak, it is likely to happen! As a journalist with the Malay Mail the last time Kuala Lumpur hosted the SEA Games 16 years ago, I could recall moments before and after the final at Shah Alam Stadium on September 15.
My preview for The Malay Mail - Saturday, Sept 15, 2001
A DECADE full of heartaches, disappointments and bitter memories could well be cast aside at the end of tonight's SEA Games soccer final between Malaysia and Thailand.
For Malaysian soccer has gone through a roller-coaster ride, and mostly on a downward curve, over the years. The road to redemption is only 90 minutes away and it begins at Shah Alam Stadium.
For the first time ever, the Games is restricted to the Under-23, a decision which appears to have favoured the home team who have shown potential beyond their average age of 20.7.
Despite being one of the youngest teams in the Games, the Malaysian team led by fisherman Hairuddin Omar, have done enough to attract the fans back, as evident in the semifinals when the stadium was packed to the brim, something not seen for a long time.
One such scene was the final in 1989, held at the Merdeka Stadium on Merdeka Day. A crowd of over 40,000 spectators witnessed a thrilling match.
Borhan Abu Samah scored an own goal before Lim Teong Kim and Dollah Salleh added salt into the Lions' wounds to ensure Malaysia's fourth soccer gold in the SEA Games series.
Ten years earlier in Jakarta, newly-wed Mokhtar Dahari struck in the 16th minute for the solitary goal, two years after Bakri Ibni and Mokhtar delivered the killer blows against Thailand in Kuala Lumpur.
Forty years ago in Rangoon, Burma succumbed in their own backyard to goals from Mahat Ambu and Abdul Ghani Minhat, now Datuk Abdul Ghani.
A fifth gold medal would extinguish all the bitter memories of recent times and consign the defeats to the Philippines (0-1) in 1991 and Laos, also by the same margin in 1997 in addition to the 6-0 debacle against Indonesia in Brunei'99, into the scrapheap.
Tonight's clash could be an evenly contested one. Both sets of players have a well-balanced squad, with emphasis on a strong offensive line-up.
While Malaysia have Kedah-born and former sprinter Akmal Rizal Ahmad Rakhli, Hairuddin and Nizaruddin Yusof firing the ammunition, Thailand look towards the fleet-footed Manit Noyvach and London-based Teerathep Vinothai.
Allan Harris' charges have the tendency to fumble in front of goal after a promising build-up, mostly bypassing midfield as opposed to Thailand's ability to attack in numbers through the middle.
Malaysia last came close to a title in 1996 in the Tiger Cup, losing 1-0 to Thailand to a Kiatisuk Senamuang's strike.
For that, we are fond of harping on the 1989 squad whose coach was an Englishman, Trevor John Hartley. Englishman Harris' middle name, mind you, is also John.
The similarity might not end there by the end of the night.
Previous final wins 1961 (Rangoon) Malaysia 2 Berma (then Burma) 0
1977 (Kuala Lumpur) Malaysia 2 Thailand 0
1979 (Jakarta) Malaysia 1 Indonesia 0
1989 (Kuala Lumpur) Malaysia 3 Singapore 1
Malaysia's likely line-up
The Penang keeper and current No 1 in the country has been outstanding throughout the tourney and is likely to be kept busy by the Thai forwards, especially Manit Noyvach.
The former Under-19 skipper has made the slot his property at the expense of the more experienced S. Jayaprakash. One of three Jitra boys in the team, Rezuan or Demang to his friends, hits penetrative passes from the flanks.
IRWAN FADZLI IDRUS
One of several free-kick specialists in the side, Jitra-born Irwan combines grit and skill on the left flank.
KAIRONNISAM SAHABUDIN HUSSAIN
The Perlis forward-turned-defender came in the second half against Indonesia in the preliminary rounds and his composure has allowed Allan Harris to push Norhafiz Zamani Misbah further upfield. Doubtful due to an ankle injury but likely to start.
Younger brother of the late Zaid Jamil, Nizam lacks technique but compensates for that with his man-marking ability and well-timed tackles. The Selangor defender scored against Vietnam.
MUHAMMAD SHUKOR ADAN
The Malaccan-born midfielder is a bit temperamental but the 22-year-old provides a steadying influence in the engine room.
NORHAFIZ ZAMANI MISBAH
The first-choice central defender who made his international debut at rightback in March, is equally adept in midfield and has shown maturity beyond his years. Will have his work cut out against his Thai counterparts.
Team captain who has been utilised on the right flank to accommodate Nizaruddin Yusof as the target man. Noted for his gutsy displays and aerial prowess.
INDRA PUTRA MAHAYUDDIN
An intelligent player with a languid style, Perak player Indra loves to attack the flank. Scored Malaysia's first goal in the current campaign in the 5-0 win over Brunei.
MOHD NIZARUDDIN YUSOF
Nizaruddin is built like a boxer but possesses a delicate touch. A key figure in attack with his constant running and killer passes, the Selangor striker would love to add to his two-goal tally in his own backyard.
AKMAL RIZAL AHMAD RAKHLI
The former district-level sprinter who is eyeing a trial in France or Switzerland, has five goals to his name despite nursing an ankle injury. Much hinges on the Jitra boy's ability to strike.
My report for The Malay Mail - Monday, Sept 17, 2001
PENANG goalkeeper Kamarulzaman Hassan (right) was desperate to cap the year with a fine SEA Games performance.
It was not to be.
Make no mistake, the Negri Sembilan-born custodian, widely acknowledged as the current No 1 in the country, was THE keeper throughout the Games.
Performing acrobatics and showing a pair of steady hands, Kamarulzaman or Ayoi to his friends, was instrumental in the Under-23 team's march to the final.
Until that single moment of catastrophic blunder on a wet Saturday night.
For that blunder, the only blot in his almost flawless displays from Day 1 in the 5-0 victory over Brunei, Malaysia lost the much sought after gold medal the whole nation had waited since 1989.
It was Malaysia's fifth silver medal in football, and the nation's third defeat to Thailand after the 1975 and 1981 losses.
The 22-year-old, was, of course, speechless after the match on Saturday. Up to that point, he had conceded only one goal, to Maman's header during the crucial group clash with Indonesia last week.
His decision to somehow dive and spread his legs to deal with Thai right wingback Sarawut Treephan's harmless cross when the opposing strikers were nowhere near him, was poor judgement.
A goalkeeper of his experience, having tasted international action since he was handpicked by Hatem Souissi and Mandiaty Fall to man the net during the Asian Under-19 qualifiers in 1998, should have known better.
You simply do not do that, especially when extra-time beckoned.
Some section of the crowd made their feelings known as gloom descended upon Shah Alam.
Itu keeper tak payah kasi pingat ... was heard during the medal giving ceremony graced by the Sports Minister, Datuk Hishammuddin Hussein.
Teary-eyed while walking towards the team bus to ferry them back to the hotel in Subang, Kamarulzaman was a broken man. He did not utter a single word, dragging his feet to take the bus.
Deep inside, Kamarulzaman must have realised his name would go into the record books for the wrong reasons.
Because of him, Malaysia ended up with silver.
But let us forgive Kamarulzaman in the same manner coach Allan Harris decided to give him a second chance after he was dropped for breaking curfew prior to the pre-World Cup campaign in March.
Kamarulzaman's services are badly required, with the Tiger Cup and the Asian Games next year in mind.
Like quartermiler Zaiful Zainal Abidin who lost the men's 400m race despite being ranked No 1 with his 46.41sec, Kamarulzaman must pick himself up.
He is after all earmarked for a stint in Germany soon.
Success is getting up just one more time than you fall down. Failure is the opportunity to begin again, more intelligently.
My personal take, an individual analysis on the squad members. Report appeared in The Malay Mail Sept 19, 2001.
KAMARULZAMAN HASSAN (Age: 22, Penang)
The Negri Sembilan-born keeper hardly put a foot wrong until that moment when he decided to spread his right leg to deal with Sarawut Treephan's harmless-looking waist-high cross, inadvertently guiding the ball into his own net to hand the gold medal to the Thais.
SYAMSURI MUSTAFA (20, Terengganu)
A first-choice in the national Under-19 team last year, Syamsuri made his international debut by stopping a penalty against Palestine in the pre-World Cup in March but Kamarulzaman's form forced him to merely warm the bench throughout the Games.
REZUAN RADZY (20, Kedah JKR)
Nicknamed Demang, the former Under-19 skipper made the rightback slot his own after replacing the temperamental Aziz Ismail against Brunei. Appeared shaky at first but grew confident with each match.
AZIZ ISMAIL (20, Penang)
A defender who impressed observers in the Merdeka Tournament, his only notable contribution for the team was the flare-up near the touchline which resulted in Shukor Adan's sending off against Brunei. He never saw another minute of action.
IRWAN FADZLI IDRUS (20, Kedah)
Leftback Irwan curled in a memorable winning goal off a trademark free- kick against Indonesia in the crucial group clash. A similar effort struck the bar in the final against Thailand. Steady and reliable left foot.
S. JAYAPRAKASH (22, Selangor)
Despite being the most experienced defender in the team, Jayaprakash was only utilised as a second half substitute to Kaironnisam Sahabudin Hussain in the semifinal clash against Myanmar.
MARZUKI YUSOF (20, Terengganu)
A first-choice defender for the Under-19 last year but a midfielder in Terengganu's good start to the season, Marzuki seemed to have lost the coaches' trust, possibly due to his tendency to leave his position.
NIZAM JAMIL (22, Selangor)
Younger brother of the late Zaid Jamil, Nizam makes up for his poor technique on the floor with well-timed tackles and tight-marking ability. Scored the first goal against Vietnam in the last group match.
KAIRONNISAM SAHABUDIN HUSSAIN (22, Perlis)
The forward-turned-defender was perhaps the find of the team, comfortably filling in the void in the centre of defence left by Norhafiz Zamani Misbah who was pushed upfield in the match against Indonesia. There was no turning back for the only player in the team who has settled down.
NORHAFIZ ZAMANI MISBAH (20, Negri Sembilan)
The Malaccan-born proved to be equally adept in defence and in midfield, but the young international showed the tendency of overdoing things when passing was the better option.
SYAIFUL SABTU (20, Negri Sembilan)
Syaiful was reduced to the role of a substitute as his game is similar to Juzaili's. Good shot, tireless worker but lacks the ability to impose his authority.
JUZAILI SAMION (20, Pahang)
The former France-based midfielder is admired for his high work rate but needs to polish his finishing and distribution apart from his tendency to pass back rather than look for an opening upfront.
SHUKOR ADAN (22, Negri Sembilan)
The temperamental Malaccan-born midfielder who was looked upon as the brains of the team, played below par throughout the Games, probably affected by the sending-off against Brunei.
K. RAJAN (20, Negri Sembilan)
The right flanker shocked Thailand with a well-taken free-kick in the Merdeka Tournament but there was not to be another magical piece of finishing in the Games. Known for his direct running, Rajan sadly froze when he came in for Nizaruddin in the final.
SUBRI SULONG (22, Terengganu)
A midfelder who shone during the Merdeka Tournament, Subri lost his place prior to the Games. Twice made appearances as a substitute, coming in for the ineffective Rajan in the final immediately after the blunder by Kamarulzaman in a futile bid to equalise.
INDRA PUTRA MAHAYUDDIN (20, Perak)
A player with a languid style, Indra proved to be an intelligent left flanker who supported the front two quite well but sometimes a bit too casual in his approach. Scored the opening goal in the campaign against Brunei.
AKMAL RIZAL AHMAD RAKHLI (20, Kedah)
Akmal's emerged as the team's top-scorer with five goals, blasting in a hattrick against Brunei, a penalty against Indonesia and the second against Vietnam. The former Strasbourg trainee now has topped the team's scoring charts in three major assignments, following his seven goals in the pre-Olympics (1999) and four in the pre-World Cup (March 2001).
NIZARUDDIN YUSOF (22, Selangor)
Nizaruddin is the workhorse in the strikeforce, working overtime as the target man with his bustling style and non-stop running. Scored two goals - one against Brunei and the solitary strike against Myanmar which led Malaysia to the final.
RUDIE RAMLI (19, Selangor)
The former Germany-based player is the youngest member of the team but he did not see any action.
HAIRUDDIN OMAR (22, Terengganu)
Team captain and part-time fisherman who somehow was not his usual commanding self playing on the right flank. More was expected of Hairuddin but perhaps he is better off as the target man.
So where are they now?
Read Four-Four-Two 2001 silver medallists - where are they now