Cheer on for Malaysia

The Malaysian team rehearsing for their match against Cambodia at the Thuwunna Stadium in Yangon, Myanmar. - Bernama pix

Malaysia's AFF Cup campaign kicks off today and it doesn't look promising. But here's hoping they manage to at least qualify for the semi-finals.

I can only watch with envy as our neighbours Thailand vie for a place in the 2018 World Cup. While they seem to be out of the race already in a group featuring Japan, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Australia, the team at least made it to the last group stages.  

They get to really test out themselves against Asia's best teams and this experience can only make them stronger in the future. While they have lost four games, they kind of showed what they are made off with a draw against Asian champions Australia 2-2. 

In round two of the qualifiers, Malaysia could only finish fourth, just above Timor Leste. Above us were war-torn Palestine, UAE and Saudi Arabia.  

The worst part were the 10-0 annihilation by UAE and the 6-0 home and away defeats to Palestine. But of course that doesn't change anything, and the same old officials are at the helm in the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM).     

Harimau Malaya fans can instead  look forward to the AFF Championships every two years. Not even the Asian Cup, which we have never qualified for on merit.  

Malaysia kick off their campaign against Cambodia later today. Also in the group are hosts Myanmar and Vietnam.  

Winning the 2010 AFF Championships was the highlight of being a Harimau Malaya fan. I can still remember the 3-0 thrashing of Indonesia in the first leg of the final at the Bukit Jalil stadium.  

The whole country was behind the team from that point. But instead of improving, we had remained stagnant or even digressed, culminating in the 10-0 defeat against UAE. 

These things happen in football, but there is a sense that Malaysia will take a very long time to recover. 

We have been doing pretty all right in the AFF in 2012 and 2014, both times losing to Thailand in the semi-finals and in the final. To be fair, we could have won in 2014 with a bit of luck, but it was just not meant to be.  

This time though, it won't be surprising if we don't qualify for the semi-finals even. With the retirement of Safiq Rahim, Amirulhadi Zainal, S. Kunalan and Aidil Zafuan Abdul Razak, the semi-finals seem to the best we can hope for. Our squad doesn't inspire confidence.  

As hosts, Myanmar would have put on a lot of effort to prove something while Vietnam are always the dark horses. This group is the easier than the other group that sees Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines slugging it out.   

Thailand are the favourites no doubt and they have the added incentive of playing for their recently deceased monarch.  

An online poll by Star Sport revealed that almost 65% of almost 2,000 people believed Malaysia wouldn't even get past the group stage. An optimistic 15% thought that Malaysia would go on and win it. 

I'm not sure where they got so much hope from or whether they are just being online trolls, but I can only hope they are right. But as a fan, we should cheer the team. 

We can proudly support our English and Spanish teams when they are in the dumps, but when it comes to our national team, most can proudly dismiss them. 

So let's all get behind our team and give them the support that they need. Selamanya Harimau Malaya!  

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