- Capital: Kuala Lumpur
- Official Languages: Malay
- Recognised Languages: English
- Nicknames: Harimau Malaya (Malayan Tigers); Skuad Kebangsaan (National Team)
- Association: Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) / Persatuan Bola Sepak Malaysia
- FIFA Code: MAS
- Best World Cup Result (Men): Not Qualified
- Best World Cup Result (Women): Not Qualified
- Best Asian Cup Result (Men): Group Stage (1976, 1980 & 2007)
- Best Asian Cup Result (Women): Third Place (1983)
- Best AFF Cup Result (Men): WINNERS (2010)
- Best AFF Cup Result: (Women): Fourth Place (2007)
- Highest FIFA Ranking (Men): 75th (August 1993)
- Highest FIFA Ranking (Women): 69th (July 2003)
- Lowest FIFA Ranking (Men): 178th (March 2018)
- Lowest FIFA Ranking (Women): 133rd (September 2011)
- Most Capped Player: Soh Chin Aun – 252 caps
- Top Scorer: Mokhtar Dahari – 84 goals
The federal constitutional monarchy of Malaysia is one of the powerhouses of South East Asian football, with its citizens having a major influence in many countries’ leagues around the world e.g. Vincent Tan owning Cardiff City, KV Kortrijk, etc. However for all of its financial clout in the world of club football, sadly the national side have underperformed in recent years. Certainly their heyday was in the early 1990s when they one of the strongest sides in the Asian confederation. Alas, the fortunes of the national side have fallen considerably with their lowest point in terms of results being the 0-10 record defeat to the United Arab Emirates in September 2015, before falling to their lowest FIFA ranking of 178 in March 2018. However things are looking brighter for the Malaysian side, with their FIFA ranking improving, and with a number of talented youngsters coming through the national teams, many are expecting the Malayan Tigers to roar again in Asian football.
To talk about one of the more successful South East Asian national teams, and the 2010 AFF Suzuki Cup winners, is Azri Firman. He is a Malaysian-based fan of Selangor FC, Manchester United, Ulsan Hyundai & Yokohama FM, and a writer for Padang Bola Sepak, an English-language website which covers everything involving Malaysian football both at home and internationally. To find their social media accounts and website, follow the links below:
Q. Who would you say is your country’s best player and coach/manager of all-time, and the reasonings behind the choices?
For the player, look no further than Mokhtar Dahari. Nicknamed ‘SuperMokh’. He’s a prolific goalscorer as he has scored 84 times in 127 caps as he is the all-time goalscorer leader. One of his memorable moments was scoring a brace versus Arsenal in a 2-0 friendly, and there were even talks of him going abroad, but he rejected the move due to his loyalty to Selangor (my home state team). He even got to play against Diego Maradona and Boca Juniors in a friendly. There is a lot to say about him so, you can read more about him here: https://www.nst.com.my/lifestyle/pulse/2018/07/390573/supermokh-remembering-our-greatest-footballer
As for the manager, well. In my opinion, there are two candidates when it comes to impact. One is Karl Heinz-Weigang. He oversaw Malaysia’s stellar 1980 Olympic qualification as we finished top of our group and beat South Korea to qualify (though Malaysia later boycotted the games due to the Soviet-Afghan war). The achievement though has inspired a movie called ‘Ola Bola’ based on those events (which I strongly suggest you check it out).
The other is K. Rajagobal. There is a big regional tournament here in South East Asia (SEA) called the Suzuki Cup and prior to 2010, we haven’t won it since its inception. So the 2010 Suzuki Cup was special for us. His team talks, trust & passion helped spur the team on to win that trophy for the first time and he will definitely be forever remembered for winning that coveted silverware.
Q. Who could be regarded as a ‘cult hero’ in terms of the national team both in the past and present?
I will focus on the present first since I will admit there is some recency bias at play here. First we have Brendan Gan. His perseverance won us over as he came back from not one, but TWO ACL injuries that would’ve surely ended a player’s career. But not Brendan. He kept going and going and his resilience paid off as after terrific consistent performances when he was with Perak, he got recalled to the national squad and has been in the set-up ever since. His professionalism and hard work are also reasons why everyone sees him as a cult hero.
If we go to the past, there is centre-back general Shukor Adan. You can count on him leading the team and provide great solidity on that backline as a CB or DM. He never holds back if he sees something wrong such as late payment of players’ wages (which is a common problem here). He played a huge role in our progress to the 2014 Suzuki Cup final as he was the vice-captain of the team, though he retired from international duty afterwards. Even though he is in his 40s, he is still going strong as he just signed a new contract on New Year’s Eve with Kuala Lumpur for the 2021 season.
Q. Of the current team, who would you say is the best player in the Malaysian national side currently?
Safawi Rasid, definitely. He plays on the right wing, sort of an inverted winger as he loves to cut the ball on his left foot. His creativity, trickery, bravery, long shots, a lethal left-foot and excellent dead-ball technique makes him devastating.
To give you an indication of how good he is, he scored two goals against South Korea in the 2018 Asian Games that saw us winning 2-1 against all the odds. Not even Son Heung-min coming off the bench changed anything.
Q. How would you describe the current state/performance of the national team?
Honestly, it’s encouraging currently after enduring a dark period around the middle of the 2010s. The position we’re in for the 2022 World Cup/2023 Asian Cup qualifying is by far the best we’ve been in, despite being placed in a difficult group, and this is actually the best bunch of players we’ve had since 2010 I would say.
We have a great amount of local talent such as Safawi, Afiq Fazail, Shahrel Fikri & Nor Azam Azih while we also have a few great naturalised players coming in for us such as Brendan, Matt Davies & Mohamadou Sumareh. Tan Cheng Hoe, our head coach, has done extremely well in guiding the team so far. The recent 2018 Suzuki Cup is a great example of how well the team is doing under his tenure.
Q. Are there any Malaysian players who you think we should be focusing on for the future – who would you say is the most exciting up & coming talent from the country?
Look no further than centre forward Luqman Hakim Shamsudin. He’s been touted as the best from his batch graduating under the National Football Development Programme (NFDP), a programme run under the government. He was even named in The Guardian’s ‘Next Generation 2019‘.
He introduced himself in style when during the opening match of the 2018 AFC U-16 Championship, he scored 4 goals in a 6-2 win over eventual runners-up Tajikistan. He then played a huge role in Malaysia’s progression to the final in the 2019 AFF U-19 Championships, where one of his most notable performance was scoring a brace against Australia in a 3-0 win. Though we couldn’t repeat the result when we met them again in the final, losing to them 1-0. He’s now with Belgian side KV Kortrijk and there are hopes here that he will come good for them.
Q. Looking at Malaysia’s international history, what would you say has been the best game, result or performance for the national team in your opinion?
The best performance/result was the 2010 Suzuki Cup final. We faced our heated rivals Indonesia. To provide a narrative, we lost to them in the opening match of that tournament embarrassingly 5-1 away, so you can imagine how much more we really want to win this final. We played a tremendously great match in the first leg as we put our rivals to the sword by winning 3-0 where Safee Sali, our best striker that time, scored a brace.
As for the 2nd leg when we visited Indonesia again, we definitely performed far better than our miserable 5-1 drubbing as it was 0-0 at half time. When Safee scored a crucial away goal just a few minutes into the 2nd half, that was when we knew a first ever Suzuki Cup is coming to us. Even though Indonesia came back and won 2-1 in the 2nd leg, the damage was already done.
Q. Likewise, is there a performance or result which is regarded as the team’s lowest point?
Wow. Where do I begin? There are two that left me an everlasting impression. One is the 2007 Asian Cup where we co-hosted along with three other SEA nations. I think one glance at how we did tells you all about it already.
The other was definitely far more impactful and it was during a 2018 World Cup qualifying match away to UAE in 2015. We were still reeling from an embarrassing 6-0 defeat at home to Palestine and somehow, the team performed worse by losing 10-0 (Yes. TEN). It was miserable week for all of us that we went there and made ourselves look pathetic. I know the gap between us then is big, but to lose by this many goals? The manager to his credit rightfully resigned when the team arrived back home. This is officially Malaysia’s worst defeat ever and definitely the lowest point ever in our footballing history.
Q. What are the best and worst things about being a fan of the Malaysian national team?
The best thing are the fans themselves. They all want the same thing for the national team and that is success. Sport can bring everyone together and football is no different here (despite the low level of interest in the local league). It would bring all different kinds of people together, no matter the race, religion, and background. The Malaysia Ultras, known as Ultras Malaya, also deserve a mention because they are the soul here with their passionate cries, encouraging banners and creative tifos supporting the team.
As for the worst things, well… Sometimes behind the scenes decisions/happenings about the national team can leave us frustrated/angry, especially when political decisions come into fray in some cases. One example happened in recent years was the knee-jerk decision to sack Lim Teong Kim as our director of the NFDP by the Youth & Sports Minister, which in turn also sacks him as the U16 head coach because we got KO’d in the 2018 AFC U16 group stages. It’s frustrating because it’s a process when it comes to nurturing youth talent for the future of our national team and it’s clear Lim knows what he was doing. A little fun fact, Lim Teong Kim was a former assistant coach for Bayern Munich’s U19 where he played a huge part in Thomas Muller’s growth.
And don’t get me started on how some of our local clubs are run… Kelantan is an example of this who are now a shadow of their former selves.
Q. Have the fans adopted some kind of unofficial anthem to sing along to before/during/after matches?
There is a song I usually hear whenever I go to live matches. It goes along the lines of “Ayuh Malaysiakuuuuu! Hari iniiiii, pasti kita menanggggg! HOI!” (Translation: ‘Let’s go, our Malaysia. On this day, we’ll be victorious!‘) and another song called is ‘Perjurit Tanah Air’. You can read more about the song and the lyrics itself here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perajurit_Tanah_Air
However, I’m pretty sure there are other songs sang by the passionate Ultras Malaya. They are a very creative group where you can find videos of them on YouTube cheering on the team. They were even featured on The Guardian at one point.
Q. Do you have a favourite or iconic shirt from the whole time of the national team?
It’s the 2010 Away kit. We played most of our Suzuki Cup matches in that kit even as the home side. I forgot the reason why though. Anyway, we played both legs of the 2010 Suzuki Cup final in that kit as we went on to win it all.
Q. Finally, what are your hopes for the future of the Malaysian national team?
I, like all Malaysians, want to see Malaysia going into the World Cup. However, I prefer to take it one step at a time. So before we do that, my hope is to qualify for the Asian Cup once again, and we can work from there to see how we fare against the big teams with our current group of players. But definitely getting into the World Cup is one wish.
Another wish is that we do continue to have a group of promising players coming in to the national team and help them thrive to get better. And finally, I do hope a lot of people’s faith in our local football is restored and that will get them to follow our local leagues consistently along with more mainstream attention in the process.
A massive terima kasih banyak-banyak to Azri for answering our questions on the Harimau Malaya. Remember you can find his excellent accounts in the links at the top of the blogpage.
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