KUALA LUMPUR: They fought hard, but the Malaysian blind football team saw four years of training and development end in tears after losing 4-3 to South Korea at the IBSA Blind Football Asian Championships.
The result ended their dreams of reaching the 2018 IBSA Blind Football World Championships, the “World Cup” of blind football.
At the final whistle yesterday, the players broke down in tears.
“We spent four years training, so it’s very disappointing we missed the chance to reach the semi-finals and the World Cup,” said national blind footballer Ahmad Fikri Omar, who scored two of Malaysia’s three goals.
Malaysia defied expectations by taking a 3-1 lead at half-time, but South Korea came charging back in the second half with two early goals.
The players pushed hard and nearly found a way back into the match with a late penalty, but they failed to convert.
“We lost to a smarter team which managed to exploit our weaknesses in the second half.
“Our strategy, passion and fitness were all great, but the boys were very tired after their match against Iran on Wednesday,” said coach Sunny Shalesh.
Their World Cup dreams may be over, but that doesn’t mean Sunny will be cutting the players any slack.
“I’ll give them a week or two to cry and then it’s back to training,” said Sunny.
He said, with the help of CIMB Foundation, football has changed the boys’ lives, transforming them into national athletes.
Sunny brought the players together four years ago as amateurs and groomed them into national athletes and 2015 Asean Para Games gold medallists.
Despite the heartbreak, the team is determined to continue pressing forward and inspiring others through blind football, especially the differently abled.
“We have the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics to prepare for. This isn’t the end of the road.
“I hope our supporters don’t give up on us, and keep coming to our matches as we work hard to make Malaysia proud,” said captain Mohd Amirul Arif.
The Malaysian blind football team’s journey to the World Cup was documented through the Eye On The Ball project, a multimedia campaign by The Star’s R.AGE team and CIMB Foundation.
The campaign will culminate in a feature-length documentary film directed by award-winning filmmaker and R.AGE senior producer Chen Yih Wen. It is slated for a 2018 release.
For more info on the Eye On The Ball documentary film, and to continue supporting the Malaysian blind football team, go to fb.com/EyeOnTheBallFilm.