The disastrous outing of the national team in the Asian Cup Finals barely four months ago resulted in a public outcry, calling for an overhaul of the FAM top brass, which eventually saw the resignation of the deputy president, Tengku Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah.
The FAM’s target for the team in Korat is the gold medal. But B. Sathianathan’s boys will be taking the early flight home if they fail to get an outright win over arch-rivals Singapore in their final Group B fixture at the Surapala Keetha Sathan Stadium today.
Malaysia are in a do-or-die situation after having lost their opening game to Vietnam (1-3) before bouncing back to thrash Laos 4-0.
Leaders Singapore are in the driver’s seat and need only a draw against Malaysia to reach the medal playoffs. Vietnam look set to get the points off Laos to advance as well.
Centreback S. Subramaniam, who will be the stand-in skipper for the injured Azi Shahril Azmi, said that they would treat the match against Singapore as a final.
“It is going to be a game of our lives. We won medals at the last three SEA Games and the thought of missing the cut for the semi-finals here is simply frightening,” said Subramaniam.
Malaysia last won the gold in the SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur in 1989. Since then, they have reached the final once – 2001 in KL – and lost to Thailand. At the last two Games in Vietnam (2003) and Manila (2005), Malaysia were the bronze medallists.
Sathianathan hopes that his boys can produce the same form that downed Singapore 3-1 in the semi-finals of the Merdeka Tournament. The success of the team in the tournament in August earned Sathianathan the job as national chief coach.
Singapore’s Nigeria-born Agu Casmir, Mohd Ridhuan Mohd and Fazrul Nawas will be the main threat for the Malaysian defence.
Said Singapore coach Radojko Avramovic: “There is no pressure on us to win. We take this match just like any ordinary game.”