Tough road for Harimau Malaya

DEARTH of strikers, one-trick ponies and wayward defending - These are some of the elements that best sums up the predicament of our national team.

Starting off with a negative note is not my thing but when it comes to our national football team, I can only say this - This is just embarrassing! What has happened to my beloved country’s football?

Yes… The league has improved thanks to JDT. They’ve revolutionised the Malaysian football scene with their professionalism and also Kelantan and Pahang for showing some stability in the league. But look at our national team...

Dollah Salleh

I know Dollah Salleh just took over the side but even then, their friendly performances have looked jaded and they are just not prepared for the AFF Suzuki Cup, which is set to start next week.

We’re placed in Group B. We will face Myanmar, Thailand and Singapore in Singapore and these teams have improved throughout the years. If it was four years ago, they could have beaten these teams but right now, including Myanmar, it’s 50-50.

Why am I telling this? The defeat against Syria showed our frailties. Maybe Dollah didn’t want to show much of his tactical nous but then… You need to boost your player’s confidence and winning these matches will aid that.

Our players lost their focus in the second-half and finger pointing started right after the match. Fans blamed the defence, particularly the last line of defence led by Farizal Marlias. He conceded the third goal cheaply and fans have urged Dollah to select Khairul Azhan, to be the first choice goalkeeper.

The defence was shambles. They were all over the place for the last two goals. Dollah’s instant remark was simple - I’m disappointed!

“We played well in the first half, but in the second half, I myself don’t understand why our players lost their focus. Maybe it was because of Syria’s second goal and that goal clearly destroyed our chances,”

And during the match, the ultra vociferous Ultras were so frustrated they started singing Dollah Salleh Apa Kau Buat? (Dollah Salleh what are you doing?) They just looked clueless on the pitch and whatever the coach says, the players do it. Thus, it begs the question… Is this job too big for Dollah?

FAM selected him after the organisation worked ‘day and night’ to find for foreign coach but they have their reasons. It’s either they are too expensive or according to them inexperienced – They deemed World Cup 1998 and Euro 2000 winner Marcel Desailly as one!

Dollah has done wonders in our local football. Just look at his CV and you will be amazed with his achievements. He has won the Malaysian Super League, Malaysian Premier League, FA Cup and the Malaysia Cup.

But is he the right fit to coach the national team? At first, I thought he would do well but after watching some of their friendly performances, I wasn't entirely convinced with it. To be a national coach, you must be an astute tactician and have the patience to evaluate each and every local player in the league.

Based on his selections, I’m not too convinced but then again, our pool looks limited. Not many local players in the Super and Premier League are able to perform consistently. The foreigners take centre stage with their displays.

In this squad, we’ve got five strikers and only one (Abdul Manaf Mamat) scored more than five goals. The others were just misfiring or shall I say, didn't get much chance to shine or if given, fail to take it!

Safee Sali was a hot commodity two years ago but now his form has deteriorated. Injuries have hampered his progress in JDT but I think there are other strikers who deserve a spot in the team. Bobby Gonzales, Norfarhan Muhammad and S. Chanturu did well in the league but they weren't selected.

Bobby is a good finisher while Chanturu’s pace will cause problems for opposing defenders. Norfarhan is known for his thunderous shots but he wasn't selected too. Instead, out-of-form Norshahrul Idlan Talaha was selected. He used to be a menace but lack of opportunities has hampered his progress.

When he took the penalty in the Malaysia Cup, I knew he was going to miss it because he looked like a man lacking in confidence. He is more like ‘somebody that I used to know’ and I can only hope that he finds his usual swagger in the AFF Suzuki Cup!

Part of the blame should also fall on FAM for causing this debacle. First the delay in naming a coach and being hesitant in investing a world-class coach. Secondly, not able to arrange A-grade friendly games with top oppositions to improve ranking points and lastly, when you look at our training facilities, it is still nowhere near best.

Look at JDT’s Padang Gelam, that to me is a brilliant training centre and I was happy that the national team was allowed to use the training centre!

We can keep on giving suggestions but at the end of the day; the management and backroom staffs have to make the move to ensure that things change in our football. If they want to win this tournament, it is going to take gargantuan effort to win it.

I would say, this tournament would serve as a grim reminder of our country’s dwindling football standards.

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