M’sia’s blind footballers take bronze medal

All ears: The Malaysian team against Vietnam during the bronze medal playoff.

All ears: The Malaysian team against Vietnam during the bronze medal playoff.

BUKIT JALIL: Malaysia’s blind football team beat Vietnam 1-0, clinching the bronze medal in the Asean Para Games.

“The team deserved to win,” Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin said.

“Vietnam was very physical, but Malaysia controlled the game. I was very impressed by the skills and discipline they showed while managing Vietnam’s attacks,” he said.

Despite Khairy’s encouraging words, it was a bittersweet victory for the defending champions.

“We were over-confident,” said coach Sunny Shalesh.

“We played well against Thailand and Vietnam, but our match against Laos was a disaster.”

Losing to Laos crushed their chances of a gold or silver, and may have also jeopardised the team’s future, he said.

“Our contract with the Malaysian Sports Council came with a KPI, and that was to bring home the gold,” said Shalesh.

With the contract ending in October and only a bronze medal to show, he is bracing himself for bad news.

“The contract is important to us and the team,” he said.

“It allowed the players to work full-time as footballers, and gave us access to medical experts. Without it, it will be tough. But we came from being a part-time team, and we will survive even if we go back to being part-time,” Shalesh said.

Support is necessary for the team, as it prepares for the 2017 Blind Football Asian Championships in December.

Former national football coach Datuk K. Rajagopal said: “Coach Sunny has achieved a lot with the team.

“We must give him credit for his hard work and time. I think given opportunity and encouragement, the team can go far.”

Luckily for the team, it has also been enjoying the support of CIMB Foundation since 2014.

On Wednesday, CIMB Group Holdings Bhd chairman Datuk Seri Nazir Razak pledged that the foundation would continue to support the team after experiencing blind football for the first time.

The foundation is also supporting R.AGE’s year-long Eye On The Ball campaign on disability rights, which will culminate in a feature-length documentary on the team’s journey, directed and produced by award-winning filmmaker Chen Yih Wen.

Khairy also pledged his ministry’s support.

“We’ll continue to support the team – this victory is due to the hard work put in by the players as well as the officials in the Youth and Sports Ministry,” he said after the match.

More information on Eye On The Ball and the Malaysian blind football team’s progress is available on facebook.com/EyeOnTheBallFilm.