JAKARTA: Perak defender K. Nanthakumar is still trying to come to terms with Malaysia’s failure to reach the final and the defeat by Vietnam in the playoff for third place in the Asean Football Federation’s (AFF) Tiger Cup tournament.
The 25-year-old from Batu Gajah, who was making his international debut, was among the outstanding performers in the Malaysian team, especially in the victories over Singapore (4-0) and champions Thailand (3-1) in the Group B matches played in Singapore.
He also gave a good account of himself in the semi-final against Indonesia at the Senayan Stadium here last Friday. Malaysia held control of the match but were beaten by an odd goal by Bambang Pamungkas in the 75th minute.
Nantha had stood out in his defensive midfield role and caught the eye of Thailand’s coach Peter Withe, who said that he was “the one who stopped the Thai players with his tackles and good reading of the game”.
The lanky Nantha made a late entry into the team. He earned a place in the final squad for the tournament with impressive performances in the playing tour of Dubai, which was part of Malaysia’s preparations for the biennial regional championship.
“Nantha is not a player who carries a million dollar tag but he simplifies things effectively on the pitch,” said Malaysia’s coach Allan Harris.
Nantha’s favourite player is French international Patrick Vieira, who plays for English Premier League champions Arsenal. He draws inspiration from Vieira and aim to go far in his international career.
“I have yet to overcome the disappointment of not reaching the final. We played very well and yet ended up losers (in the semi-finals against Indonesia),” said Nantha, who has donned Perak colours for the last four years.
But Nantha is much wiser and richer in experience from his outings in the tournament.
“It came as a big surprise for me when I was named in the final squad. Now that I am in the team, I will work hard to retain my place and help the national team achieve success,” he said.
“What you do in the M-League is not the same as in the national team. It is a totally different approach. The ideas are different and you are more committed in training.”
Nantha thanked former Perak and national team manager Datuk Raja Ahmad Zainuddin for helping him carve a football career. It was Raja Ahmad who spotted his talent in the Taiping League and called him for trials.
Nantha also has a cousin, K. Kumaran, who features in the M-League. Kumaran played for Premier I club Negri Sembilan Chempaka this year but will be playing for Malacca Telekom next season.