Malaysia‘s “Harimau Muda“, the national U-23 team that represents the country in international football competitions like the Olympic Games, Asian Games and SEA Games has retained the SEA Games football gold, which they first won in 2009. The nail-biting final at Gelora Bung Karno Stadium, Jakarta saw the young Malaysians beating Indonesia’s “Garuda Muda” 4-3 in penalty shootouts.
The much-anticipated final showdown between two of South East Asia’s best teams was keenly contested right from the beginning with Indonesia threatening the unsettled Malaysian defense in the early minutes. The Indonesians were relentless in attacks with danger men Titus Bonai and Patrich Wanggai in offense.
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The Indonesians were rewarded in the 5th minute through a glancing header from a corner kick. Unmarked Gunawan Dwi Cahyo made no mistake to put Indonesia 1-0 ahead. The goal did wonders for Ong Kim Swee’s young side it seemed with the Tigers tidying up their game and kept much of the possession in the remaining half.
Malaysia drew level in the 38th minute with a sliding header by Mohd Asraruddin Putra Omar, stunning the home side. The Malaysians in the capacity 87,000 crowd went wild. So did Malaysians in mamak stalls, pubs and at home. I donned my Harimau Malaya jersey with some friends to catch the game at Tom, Dick & Harry and it went absolutely berserk! Celebrations all around!
The second half saw Indonesia dominating possession and both side parried each others blows. Both teams fought hard till the end of full time with score level. If diabetes didn’t kill Malaysians for our love for teh tarik, then high blood pressure certain would, no thanks to the suspenseful drama on pitch. Two disallowed goals from either side due to offside was enough to send temperatures soaring.
Tired but still fighting, both teams had to settle with penalty kicks.
In the penalty shoot-out, Titus Bonai, Egi Melgiansyah and Abdul Rahman were on target for Indonesia while Gunawan Dwi Cahyo and Ferdinan A.S. failed to convert their attempts, no thanks to the able hands of Khairul Fahmi who was brilliant all night.
For Malaysia, Mahalli Jasuli, Fandi Othman and Mohd Fadhli Shas were spot on with their kicks. Ahmad Fakri Saarani made it a little harder for Malaysia, having his weak grounder saved by Indonesian keeper. Skipper Baddrol stepped up to take the fifth and final penalty for Malaysia and although managed to be parried by the lanky Indonesian keeper, the ball had enough momentum to roll into the net.
We jumped. We screamed. We high fived. We leaped. We banged tables.
So a well-deserved goal medal for Malaysia! In all honesty, this is one of the best, most exciting football finals I’ve watched in a while. It’s cruel to have to pick a team to win, as I thought both teams played brilliantly in their own ways to come out champions. But I guess there can only be one winner.
This is another bright day for Malaysian football. The glory days of the 1980’s are slowly and steadily returning.
Syabas, Harimau Muda. I stand proud!
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