| VIENTIANE (18 Dec 2009) – It was a scene rarely witnessed before, possibly even never, in the world of football.
After the conclusion of the prize presentation ceremony for the SEA Games football final, all 20 players of the Malaysian team rushed to their coach and placed their medals around the neck of their guru – Malaysian coach K. Rajagobal.
The action of the players is testament of Rajagobal’s capability as a coach.
The actions of the 20 players probably mirrors the feelings of millions of Malaysian football fans, who have been starved of success for so long.
The last time Malaysia landed a gold medal was 20 years ago in the 1989 Kuala Lumpur SEA Games.
Their last SEA Games final appearance was in 2001, again in Kuala Lumpur, but they lost to a own goal to Thailand.
How ironic that it took an own goal by a Vietnamese defender for Malaysia to claim the gold medal.
This time around, luck had little to do with the success of the Malaysian team here in this sleepy city by the famous Mekong river.
The Malaysians had proven their ability against the reigning champions Thailand. They again showed their class by keeping their cool and outplaying the hosts in the semi-finals.
In the final, despite being the underdogs against Vietnam, who were playing in their fourth successive SEA Games final and in front of over 15,000 fans, Rajagobal’s boys displayed exceptional form and performance, not to mention maturity and determination, to prevail.
Many of the boys have been with Rajagobal for some time now.
He has been the national coach youth coach, handling the various age-groups (Under-19, Under-20, Under-23), and as such had the opportunity to play a major part in the development of these youngsters.
Under him, they have evolved into worthy professionals who are now appear ready to carry the nations’ torch.
Rajagobal was quick to warn that everyone should not get carried away with this win, no matter how important it was for Malaysia.
“This is just the start, there is still a long way to go,” explained the silver-haired coach, among the few ‘locals’ leading their teams in this competition.
Although the SEA Games is a minor event in the context of world football, the enormity of the success of the Malaysian team after so many years in the backwaters is extremely important.
Success at this stage can be a catalyst for the re-generation of Malaysian football.
But as Rajagobal warned, this is just the beginning. There is a long way to go and they will come under scrutiny when the team next competes in the Asian Cup qualifiers and the prestigious Asean Football Federation Cup at the end of next year.
For now, Rajagobal and his boys should bask in the glory of their sensational victory here in Laos.