ASEAN rugby test series


Written on 1/29/2007 10:18:00 pm by sikapitan

Let’s talk about football, or to the Malaysian National Team – rugby. I just knew that if Malaysia lose via a penalty shoot-out, everyone (and by everyone I mean the mass media) would use words like “unfortunate”, “unlucky” or “nasib”. It hides a fundamental flaw in the way Malaysia played that night, and over the course of the ASEAN Tournament.

To be fair to Malaysia, the rest of the nations participating did not exactly match up to the standards we are so used to (no thanks to Astro and its weekly collection of matches from Serie A, EPL, Primera Liga and even the Bundesliga). Some of the matches actually resembled a very good high-school football match. If this is the standard of ASEAN football, then we have a long way to go towards qualifying for the World Cup, let alone win it.

But I don’t really care about other teams. First things first, I must say that the new Nike kit that Malaysia wears is absolutely spot-on. I love it. It’s been a while since Malaysia played with a proper tiger stripes, and Nike has designed a stylish ensemble. Forget about the criticism about the lack of a Malaysian flag on the jersey. International soccer has moved away from flags and the emblem of the FA is good enough for me.

Unfortunately, only the jersey looks good. In a lackluster campaign that actually lasted longer because of Myanmar’s shock draw, Malaysia appeared to be stuck with the same problems plaguing the national team for so long. Their inability to string passes in midfield is a major drawback. Their enthusiasm for pumping the ball upfield warrants a closer look at Malaysia’s strategy.

There are two ways with the long ball tactic. One is lobbing the ball up to the center, for a big target man who can hold up the ball while others come and support. The other is pushing the ball down the channels for speedy strikers to stretch the opposition’s backline. Malaysia’s tactic is neither here nor there. They tried to play behind the backline, but the quality wasn’t there in the pass for Nizaruddin, Hairuddin or Samransak to exploit. The ball usually falls short, in other words the defenders get a clear header over our long passes. Why?

Simply because Malaysia’s opposition can sit deep. Just see how easy it was for Thailand’s backline to marshal Malaysia’s forward line in the group stages. They didn’t have to push up, because Malaysia did not hold the ball long enough to draw in the opposition. They can afford to have a big gap between midfield and defenders because Malaysia’s midfield never held the ball longer than 3 passes.

The match against Singapore (over both legs) was better for Malaysia, but not by much. The Singapore defenders weren’t the best I’ve seen in the tournament, despite being imported players. Despite that, Malaysia still failed to capitalize, by still relying on long balls, especially in the first half of the second leg in Singapore.

Nevertheless, there are some positives from this Malaysian team, and it is a youthful looking squad. I like no.7, Malaysia’s captain and centre-back. He’s commanding, and athletic enough to get over his height disadvantage. Thiru at right-back looks solid enough, and was alert anytime he had to tuck in with his central defenders. Nantha wants to be Michael Carrick, and he got all the right moves with the slow languid pace and nonchalant expression but he missed out on one important factor – passing the ball competently. Hardi Jaafar has a sweet left foot. Honestly, with the corners and free kicks that he takes, I wonder how Malaysia failed to score more from set-pieces. But his weakness is that he is pretty useless at defending, and he relies too much on his long range passing.

Ah, but what do I know. My experience at football management is hours in front of the computer playing Football Manager. But what I do know is that Malaysian football will forever be stuck in this mess if the general attitude of the footballers remains the same. Tidak apa seems to be our motto, and under-achievement seems to be our goal. People forget that Malaysia has the financial resources (which we have spent, to the tune of MILLIONS every year), the necessary interest from the population, and the available talent pool to be the best in ASEAN. Yet, we are still where we were 5 years ago. At least this time we failed with a local coach…


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