Malaysia snubs national team in independence year

"Once upon a time Malaysia's football team was the envy of South East Asia, sweeping aside Japan and South Korea as it reached two Olympic Games and two Asian Cups. Those glory days are now a distant memory with an unimpressive domestic league producing a national side ranked 149 in the world, lower than the likes of Chad, Lesotho and Swaziland. The message was hammered home in Malaysia's opening game of the Asian Cup, when the co-hosts succumbed to the competition's heaviest defeat so far - a 5-1 drubbing by China ... It is a far cry from the proud days when Malaysia was a founding member of the Asian Football Confederation, reaching Asian Cup finals in 1976 and 1980 as well as the 1972 and 1980 Olympic Games, " observed AFP.

The newsagency noted that the match "was watched by a sparse crowd in the National Stadium, highlighting public disillusionment as Malaysia celebrates its 50th anniversary of independence from Britain," that local media cricised the team as being "still as bad as ever" and senior football officlals blasted the perrmance as "shameless" and "inept" performance.

The Malaysian malaise may be blamed on poor management, cronyism and lack of government support, with a healthy dose of bribery and corruption thrown in, said one local expert. "State teams are basically being run by people who are connected to the establishment, meaning the state government," explained Rizal Hashim, a veteran sports journalist with the Malay Mail. "The whole set up is basically being run by the [state] secretary," he said. "The secretary will normally propose the name of the coach and the coach will pick his players based on favouritism. There's very little meritocracy."

Unlike in the three other South East Asian co-host nations, the Asian Cup has failed to revive Malaysia's football spirits. "The fans watch Malaysian football and they compare [Malaysia midfielder] Shahrulnizam Mustapha with Ryan Giggs. It's too vast a difference," said one prominent sports journalist. "A 12-year-old boy can't name one player from the national team but he can name the first XI for Arsenal," he said.

"Now Malaysian football has sunk so low that fans would rather watch European football on television than turn up for their own national team," said Hashim. "We are so concentrated on the English Premier League and our former colonial masters," he said.