(By SHAMSHUL FITRI)
KLANG: National football coach Datuk K. Rajagopal is banking on the support of the fans to help in the defence of the AFF Suzuki Cup title which begins on Sunday.
Rajagopal said the fans remained strongly behind the team despite the recent slip-ups where they won only two of their five friendly matches.
Malaysia beat Cambodia 3-0 and Hong Kong by the same scoreline but lost 1-0 to Vietnam and 2-0 to Thailand. In their last friendly at home, the national team hardly looked like title contenders as they were held 1-1 by Hong Kong.
Despite the insipid performances, the fans came in droves during a meet-and-greet session with the national players at a shopping mall in Bukit Raja yesterday.
“Just look at the crowd. Despite criticism in the media, the support is still strong for the team. It’s fabulous that the fans are behind us,” said Rajagopal.
“I can promise everyone that we are focused on the defence of the title and can do it.”
Also present at the session were national players Safiq Rahim, Safee Sali, Norshahrul Idlan Talaha and Khairul Fahmi Che Mat.
Rajagopal said it was unfair to pass judgment even before the start of the tournament.
“The first step is to focus on the opening match. Only then can we think about qualifying for the semi-finals. Let us to take it step by step before passing any unkind remarks,” he said.
Rajagopal decided to take the team away from the rising pressure and they spent two days on Pangkor last week. “The moral of the team is good after the two-day retreat at Pangkor. We didn’t touch on or discuss football at all,” he said.
Skipper Safiq urged the players to forget about their 2010 success and focus on what lay ahead.
“Winning the title was historic but we must look forward and think positive if we want to retain the Cup,” said Safiq. “I’m confident we can do it, especially with this kind of crowd support.”
Malaysia open their campaign against Singapore at Bukit Jalil on Sunday. They play Laos three days later (Nov 28) before the crunch match against Indonesia, whom they beat in the 2010 final, on Dec 1.
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