Youth vs Experience: A tale of Malaysian paradox at the AFF Suzuki Cup

Four years ago, Malaysian football was injected with a breath of fresh air. It wasn’t merely about the victory, it wasn’t merely about the fact that we triumphed on Indonesian soil in the second leg of the final. It was more than that.

As Rajagobal recently revealed in an exclusive interview with, he was only given 10 days to prepare a squad for the AFF Suzuki Cup, which if you are wondering, is relatively insignificant for teams who intend to triumph in tournaments. International teams usually take up to two months, planning and deciding the final squad that would eventually represent the nation, but in King Raja’s case, he only had 10 days.

So being new to the position and having very limited time to work things out, King Raja opted for a decision that he trusted the most. Having guided the Malaysia U-23 team to the SEA Games Gold Medal in 2009, he incorporated a large chunk of that squad into the Suzuki Cup team, making youth the fulcrum of his team. Of course, the customary ‘eyebrow raising’ took place throughout the nation, as fans began to question whether the decision was justified by any yardstick.

And when they suffered a 5-0 defeat in the opening game of the tournament, all questions were validated instantly on the spot. You could almost imagine the looks on faces of uncles who would be watching the game at local cafe and shops. It was all too common. The promise of celebration, was more often than not, followed by crestfallen faces, when it involved the Malaysian national team. Thing is, you can’t blame them either. After all, it was becoming a trend for us; losing in regional games.

But what happened in the course of the next one month, altered the entire landscape of Malaysian football. Raja’s boys displayed tremendous grit to bounce back and secure their passage into the final of the very competition that slapped them so hard on Matchday One. I don’t think much needs to be said about Malaysia’s performance in the final though. An impeccable 3-0 win on home soil placed them in the driving seat, before they completed the mission in Jakarta by holding on to their aggregate lead.

At the end of the night, Malaysia were the new Kings of South-East Asia, and rightly so as well. A triumph that produced a golden generation of young talent within the country. A victory that sparked life and passion back into the local football scene. A trophy that offered the new generation of fans, a glimpse into what things were like during the golden days of Malaysian football.

Four years later, we’re on the same stage, but the script has been slightly tampered. The team is far more experienced, and has been spearheaded by tremendous performances from veterans within the squad. We have a different head coach in place. And we didn’t have the best of starts, suffering a 2-0 defeat against Thailand in the first leg, leaving Dollah Salleh and co with a mountain to climb.

But perhaps its time for Dollah’s men to take a backseat over the next two days, and analyze the achievement of King Raja’s squad in 2010. Those guys were thrown around by fans, criticized for not being up to par, doubted for not being experienced enough. But they battled against the odds to secure the win; one that remains a massive moment within the local football scene.

Experience has always been pivotal to any football team; there’s no questioning the fact that they know more about the game, than most young players in any team do. But maybe for Malaysia, a little bit of youth mentality is what the veterans and experienced players need ahead of this Saturday’s cruncher. After all, if the youngsters aren’t aware of what it’s like to win, then they probably aren’t aware of what it’s like to lose and give up.

Thailand certainly have the upper hand in this fixture and they will not be foolish enough to underestimate Malaysia within the vicinity of home support. That’s precisely why Dollah’s men need to regain the spirit of 2010. From kick-off, it will be war. A war that can only be won by those who want it hard enough and by those who keep their head focused on the end goal for the entire match. And even if they face more set-backs on the day, giving up should never be an option.

Because while the Thais have the advantage, nothing has been, and will ever be, impossible in football. Ask Datuk K. Rajagobal, he’ll tell you all about it.

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