IT has been 10 years since Malaysia did the unthinkable when, against all odds, they won the 2010 AFF Suzuki Cup.
Most eyes were fixated on heavyweights Thailand and Indonesia while Datuk K. Rajagopal’s charges were not given a ghost of a chance.
To make matters worse for the Harimau Malaya, they were thrashed 5-1 in their opening game by Indonesia.
But coach Rajagopal and his boys refused to throw in the towel.
In their second game, they held the mighty Thais 0-0. And it saw the beginning of their resurgence.
They went on to thump Laos 5-1 and made it to the knockout stage. In the two-legged semis, they prevailed 2-0 on aggregate against Vietnam.
In the final, they avenged their loss to Indonesia 3-0 at home and went down 2-1 in the return leg but it was enough to bring home the Cup as they won 4-2 on aggregate.
Rajagopal still remember their rise from the ashes.
“Ten years have passed by quickly. To sit down and recall the exciting and difficult times back then as a coach is heartwarming.
“It gives you a different kind of happiness. When you think that the whole nation celebrated that moment. It was something special... something priceless, ” he said.
“I must give credit to the players for their hard work and determination despite the tremendous pressure. Special thanks to the management and my assistants Tan Cheng Hoe and Faozi Mukhlas.
“We prevailed due to our collective effort and honest hard work.”
It was certainly not smooth sailing especially after the 5-1 trouncing in the first game.
Rajagopal admitted that he didn’t know what happened and felt that the scoreline didn’t do justice to the efforts shown by his players.
“I was totally devastated. I didn’t know what was going on. And our next game was against the Thais!, ” he said.
“I had to do something. I told the boys it’s our do-or-die match and the right time to live up to our nickname and start to roar.”
And the players rose to the occasion to stun Thailand.
“After that match, the players were full of confidence. They raised their game and showed their ability in the next matches. Even Thai coach and former Manchester United player Bryan Robson said we did well.”
Rajagopal said every single player in the squad raised their performance.
“After the semi-final win, I told them that they could leave a lasting legacy, something they can always be proud of. I wanted them to have the belief that they could do it.
“Skipper Safiq (Rahim) was just 23, but was so committed to the cause and kept everyone together with his leadership qualities. Striker Safee (Sali) had a dream tournament and was voted as the top scorer.
“Who would have thought we could perform so well and go on to win the Cup?
“Now when I see them in action on television, I’m proud of what they have achieved thanks to their Suzuki Cup exploits. Not just in football but also away from it. They are now married with kids and having a good life. I’m happy for every one of them. They deserved it.”
And Rajagopal could well be in charge of a team in the Suzuki Cup in next year’s edition, only this time as coach of Brunei.
“As for my Brunei journey, it is an exciting one and I’m looking forward to put them on the region’s footballing map.”