Anyone bemoaning the waning fortunes of Malaysian football should have watched the Kuala Lumpur Cup football tournament which was staged at The New Camp in Bandar Utama.
The two-day event which featured 98 teams from six countries, namely Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Sri Lanka and Malaysia, offered insights into the burgeoning talent not only in Malaysia but in South-East Asia as well.
“I think Malaysian clubs are at the level of others in South-East Asia, if not a little higher,” observed tournament director Filipe Goncalves, who has been organising the tournament since it started in 2016.
He noted the arrival of skilful Indonesian clubs in this year’s tournament, which were supported by the Indonesian government.
“We played friendly matches with these clubs with our NFDP (National Football Development Programme) sides and they were tight matches. They (the Indonesians) have many talented players,” he said.
“The level of our NFDP teams is very impressive now, the Under-12 and 14 teams are playing like grown-ups.
“The way they control the ball, passing backwards, tactics and they have the strategy of how they want to score their goals.
“The players know exactly what they are doing on the pitch. It’s not just pure talent but also knowledge of the game,” related the Portuguese coach who hails from Lisbon, Portugal.
Some of the prominent teams which took part were NFDP and FC Kuala Lumpur from Malaysia, Foosbi and Imran Soccer Academy (ISA) from Indonesia and Turf City from Singapore.
“The players from Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia have high standards and are more competitive while the teams from Thailand and Vietnam came more for the experience and enjoyment of the game,” said Filipe.
“Looking at the Indonesians, I can see a number of them will certainly turn professional one day.
“Turf City from Singapore, which is also part of the Little League Soccer programme, sent some players for trials with Inter Milan and FC Bologna last year and have players who could turn professional in the next one or two years,” related Filipe.
“On Malaysians, I certainly see players who will turn professional in the next 10 years. It’s a mixed lot, meaning there are teams aiming at development but also those honing the players for professional careers.”
On the level of competition, Filipe noted the rising standards. “When we started in 2016, it was a small competition and the level wasn’t that good. But we have managed to build it up and it is quite impressive now,” he said.
Participation has grown by 34% since last year with 1,176 players taking part this time. In 2017, 64 teams participated with 768 players attending.
With the tournament growing fast, the organisers are planning to stage next year’s tournament in two venues.
Little League Soccer Malaysia, the organisers, run training centres in Melawati, Bandar Utama, Universiti Malaya and a newly opened centre in Setia Alam.
Initially, Little League Soccer started with a grass-roots programme – Football for Fun – which eventually led to the inclusion of competitive football with the creation of Football Club Kuala Lumpur in 2015.
FC Kuala Lumpur regularly participates in regional tournaments in Bangkok and Singapore, and locally in the AirAsia Junior League.
Teams participated in the seven-a-side tourney in five age groups, namely Under-8, Under-10, Under-12, Under-14 and Under-16. The teams played in a league format with the leading teams making it into the knockout stage and quarter-finals.
NFDP ATTP beat Turf City FC 2-1 to lift the Under-8 crown. In the semis, NFDP narrowly defeated Raisuri Warriors 1-0 while Turf City featured in a ding-dong battle with FC Kuala Lumpur before claiming victory 3-2.
In the Under-10 Cup competition final, NFDP Satu FC B beat Turf City FC 2-0. In the semis, NFDP Satu B beat NFDP Satu A 2-0 while Turf City overcame Bilspi Aisop DKI 2-0.
In the Plate final, Assumption FC came out on top in a closely fought match with FC Kuala Lumpur 3-2.In the Bowl final, Fox Football Vietnam trounced HMFC 4-1.
In the Under-12 Cup competition final, Inspire Budak Bola 1 got the better of Indonesian side, Bilspi Uni Bandung Jabar 3-1.
In the semis, Bilspi beat NFDP at Kinta Utara 2-0 while Inspire was involved in a titanic battle with ISA Trisakti Indonesia before coming through 4-3.
In the Plate final, Assumption FC pipped FC Kuala Lumpur 1-0. In the Bowl final, NFDP Satu FC B was involved in a high scoring match before triumphing 5-4 over Fox Football Vietnam.
In the Under-14 Cup competition final, ISA Trisakti Indonesia squeezed past Turf City FC 1-0. In the semis, ISA Trisakti beat Superkids 3-0 while Turf City edged Selangor Seahawks 1-0.
In the Plate final, Foosbi Indonesia beat Bintang Garuda Soccer Skills 2-0. In the Bowl final FC Kuala Lumpur defeated Fox Football Vietnam 3-1.
In the Under-16 Cup competition final, VIFC beat Assumption FC 3-2. In the semis, Assumption came through 2-0 over El Roi Football Academy while VIFC beat Fox Football Vietnam 1-0.
In the Plate final, HMFC beat AFC Penang 1-0. The KL Cup was presented by low-cost carrier AirAsia.