Three players relived their story of turning agony to success.
> The rise of the Semenyih Express
Winger S. Kunanlan does not talk much as he does most of his talking on the pitch.
Fondly known as the Semenyih Express for his speed, Kunanlan said the final is still fresh in his mind.
“We won 3-0 in Bukit Jalil and then lost 1-2 at the Gelora Bung Karno to win the Cup. After the final whistle, we just didn’t know what to do, how to react. It was unbelievable!” said Kunanlan, who was 24 at the time.
“In the two-legged final, the pressure was intense as we were playing in front of fervent crowds, both at home and away.
“You do not need to talk about the fans in Jakarta. Up to the 54th minute, it was noisy and crazy, but when Safee (Sali) scored, the stadium went silent.
“Many did not expect us to go that far after our huge loss to them. We were down but coach (Rajagopal) was not. He galvanised us and things started to change after the Thailand game.”
> The birth of Apek
Against Thailand in the 0-0 draw, one player stood out and it was young goalkeeper Khairul Fahmi Che Mat. The 1.72m tall Kelantanese single-handedly kept the Thais at bay and since then has been indomitable between the posts.
“It feels like just yesterday. I always think about it. Even when I’m down, I look back on that match and somehow it inspires me to face my problems head on, ” said Khairul.
He also remembered a pep talk by then team manager Datuk Seri Subahan Kamal before the Laos match.
“We had to beat them big. Like really big. He gave us the motivation we needed and gave me goosebumps. He said we had left our loved ones to seek glory for the country. He added that many looked down on us and that it was time we prove them wrong and show them what we are made of. We went all out after that and the rest is history.”
> The silent worker
Fans derided Amar Rohidan for his performance, but little did they know that the midfielder was the glue that held the team together. Amar, now a businessman, remembers the campaign well.
“Honestly, I didn’t expect that we would get that far. I realised that we can win it after beating Vietnam in the semis. In the final, we gave our all, we were full of energy and commitment, ” said the former Kedah player.
“I know people blasted me but I’m a coach’s player. I follow tactics and as long as I get the job done, I’m not bothered about the critics.”