DEFEAT is always a bitter pill to swallow.
What makes it even more difficult to digest is the fact that glory was within reach, a classic case of the saying ‘so close and yet so far’.
Last night, the Malaysian U-22 side lost to their counterparts from Thailand in the men’s football final of the 29th SEA Games,
This was no ordinary match. The last time Malaysia played in a final of the SEA Games was in 2011 when they won gold against arch rivals Indonesia at the Gelora Bung Karno Stadium in Jakarta.
Under the guidance of the current coach, Ong Kim Swee, Malaysia won 4-3 on penalties as the match ended 1-1 after extra time.
Adding to the intensity of the final last night was the difficulty in attaining tickets to the game, so much so that we were bombarded with images and videos of people queuing as early as 2am.
Many also braved the afternoon heat to get their hands on these valuable tickets.
However, most were left frustrated as one of the two counters was temporarily closed after a ruckus broke out. Many also went back home empty handed which prompted the Ultras Malaya to boycott the final. It was a show of support to those who did not manage to buy tickets due to a supposed incompetency issue. READ: Malaysia vs Thailand: Ticket counters temporarily closed as fans turn rowdy
To the match itself. Wary of the threat posed the by the strikers on both sides, Malaysia and Thailand started off with a cautious approach. The Thais began to take control of the engine room and enjoyed an impressive spell in the Malaysian half with skipper Chenrop Samphaodi a real menace with his instinctive and quick turns inside the box.
In the 38th minute, Thailand took the lead via an own goal by the Malaysian goalkeeper, Mohamed Haziq Nadzli who inexplicably punched the ball into his own net. The stadium was shell-shocked by the error, given that Haziq made a fantastic save earlier to deny a bullet header by Phica Au-Tra from going in. READ: Thailand dash Malaysia's hopes of winning 'mother of all gold medals' in SEA Games
N. Thanabalan, Malaysia’s hero in the group stages and semi-final, cut a forlorn figure as he was subdued in the 1st half. The compact Thai defence manged to snuff out any chance of him breaking from the flanks. However, in the 2nd half, he did provide glimpses of what he is capable of but was unable to replicate the movements which led to his previous goals throughout the campaign.
There is no denying the fact that Ong Kim Swee’s boys played their hearts out. They pressed the Thai’s backline with tenacity and an eagerness that might not have been that apparent during the group stage. However, that killer pass into the box was missing. The Thais could have killed the game in the 60th minute but Nopphon Phonkam’s effort was cleared off the line by Adam Nor Azlin.
Relentless pressure by Malaysia in the final minutes of the match was thwarted by Thailand’s astute defence. Our northern neighbours fought resiliently until the final whistle and were crowned Southeast Asia’s Football Kings for the 3rd time in a row. They had previously achieved gold in Yangon/Naypyidaw in 2013 and Singapore in 2015.
Praise has to be given to both sets of fans in a sell-out crowd of approximately 80,000 for providing an atmosphere that was second to none.
It is definitely apt for us to apply the motto of the ongoing games; #BangkitBersama’ or "Rise Together" to the current situation that we find ourselves in.
We have to look past this defeat and look towards better results in the future.
After all, kalah menang, adat permainan,