Now that they have got your attention, it is time for us to rally behind the Harimau Malaya who defied the odds and a tricky group to reach the semi-finals of the AFF Suzuki Cup.
Malaysian fans were taken on a roller-coaster ride in the last group game against Singapore at their newly refurbished National Stadium.
In the first match, Malaysia was held to a 0-0 draw against Myanmar. In the second match, the Malaysians were leading Thailand 2-1 until the 72nd minute only to end up losing 3-2.
Safee Sali, who made the headlines recently after he was caught smoking in public, scored the first goal but Khairul Amri equalised for Singapore.
Singapore thought they were on their way to qualifying but in the 90th minute Malaysia were awarded an unexpected penalty. Safiq Rahim, who has been Malaysia’s best player in the tournament, scored from six yards.
In the 95th minute, against the run of play, veteran midfielder Indra Putra Mahayuddin scored the third goal, sealing Malaysian’s win.
Makings of a great tale huh? It’s still far from over. We still have to beat Vietnam first in the semifinals.
If we manage to do that, we will face either The Philippines or Thailand in the final.
I was initially critical over coach Dollah Salleh’s team selection and its display in the first two matches, but I guess he got his tactics right in the game against Singapore.
Based on history, both countries have similar records in the tournament.
Vietnam and Malaysia have reached the last four seven times and reached the final on two occasions, with both teams winning one title respectively.
Their seven matches to date in the competition have also been closely-fought with the Indochinese side winning three times while Malaysia have two wins with the other two games ending in draws.
In the 2010 edition of the AFF Cup, Malaysia beat Vietnam 2-0 in the semifinals, before going on to vanquish Indonesia in the final.
Back then, Safee scored two goals against Vietnam in the first leg of the semifinals played here.
This time, I’m expecting Gary Steven Robbat and Safiq to be the main players for this match. They set the tempo for the Malaysian side and once they get into their rhythm, things will be good for us.
Though Amri Yahyah and Mohd Shukor Adan have been suspended, Dollah has other players he can rely on to do the job.
S. Kunanlan, Indra or Abdul Manaf Mamat can play on the left wing while Muslim Ahmad looks set to partner Mohd Fadhli Shas in central defence.
Muslim and Fadhli were the winning centre-back partnership during the 2010 AFF Suzuki Cup and let’s hope they replicate that form against the tricky Vietnamese players especially Le Cong Vinh, who used to play for J-League club Consadole Sapporo and Portuguese club Leixoes.
Two other players that we have to watch closely are Ngo Hoang Thinh and Pham Thanh Luong. Ngo will be the man tasked to provide the ammunition for Le while Pham is going to cause problems on the left wing
Online tickets for the game were sold-out in a day and on Friday, fans queued up under the hot sun at Shah Alam Stadium to get the match tickets. I’m expecting more than 70,000 fans to be in the stadium and Malaysians will surely want a committed performance from the players.
The players are under pressure but they should also know that the whole nation is behind them. They have made themselves noticed… Now is the time for them to make themselves heroes!