IT nearly happened, didn't it? Malaysia coming within a whisker of holding Manchester United to a draw in their friendly on Saturday.
It was, irrespective of what happened in last night's match, a pleasing result considering just how bad Malaysian football has become.Sure, United were nowhere near their best but Malaysia fought and that by itself is a trait that should be admired.But we also have to be mindful of the fact that there have been several false dawns as far as football is concerned over the last few years.It started with the 2001 Kuala Lumpur Sea Games where Malaysia, after a 12-year absence, qualified for the final only for keeper Kamarulzaman Hassan to concede a freak goal.
That was followed by bronze medal finishes in the next two Sea Games before failing to advance to the semi-finals of the 2007 edition in Korat.
All these campaigns were spearheaded by the national Under-23 squad and in each edition, Malaysia spoke about how this generation was going to revive football.But Malaysia are still without a Sea Games gold and when the next edition comes around in December, it will be 20 years since that majestic night at the Merdeka Stadium when Malaysia beat Singapore 3-1 in the final.So, as pleasing as Malaysia were against United, we have to remember that there is still a lot of work to be done and results achieved before we can say football is out of the woods.
In fact, more and more are questioning the millions that are being spent on sports like football and hockey when it is becoming increasingly obvious that the future for Malaysia is in individual sports.Divers Leong Mun Yee and Pandelela Rinong proved that by clinching the women's 10m platform bronze in the World Championships on Sunday, a first ever for Malaysia.Cyclists Azizul Hasni Awang and Rizal Tisin won silver and bronze in the World Championships in May while bowling and squash have consistently done so as well.
Badminton is another sport that delivers, though I would still say at a trickle after considering the support and resources that the BA of Malaysia (BAM) has.Still, badminton -- one of the Big Three -- is still a lot more consistent then football and hockey -- and is doing reasonably well at the junior and senior levels.Players like Lee Chong Wei, Koo Kien Keat and Tan Boon Heong came through the ranks and they are still there delivering.Can football claim the same?Most of the players from the 1997 World Youth Cup faded just five, six years later and the same happened to those from the 2001 Sea Games squad.
Sure, they might still be playing in the M-League but was that what millions were spent on them for?This is something the FA of Malaysia must address seriously if it hopes to build on what has been achieved in the two matches against United.- ON THE BALL BY VIJESH RAI - NST SPORTS EDITOR ..