So in the end, we simply weren't good enough and got knocked out of the pre-World Cup campaign by arch rivals Singapore, 6-4 on aggregate. But we did go down fighting; fans and players alike.
I arrived at the National Stadium, Bukit Jalil at around 6.30pm and it was a relatively smooth journey for me, as I knew a couple of tricks and shortcuts. But I did have to wait around for a bit as I waited for my MHI colleagues to arrive. It was then that a couple of bus drivers said hello to me and informed me that they had ferried some Singapore fans from down south for the game. 9 buses full of them, in fact.
Around 7.30pm, my MHI posse arrived, and the scene outside the stadium was terribly exciting, with thousands of fans clad in either the blue or yellow of Harimau Malaya.
But we were completely blown away by what we saw INSIDE the stadium. 85,000 people were at hand, and all (well, save for the 300 or so Singaporeans) were behind our boys 100%. The atmosphere was simply electric!
Not only most were wearing the jersey, they came prepared with banners, confetti, headbands, wigs, vuvuzelas, etc, to lift the players' spirits and basically burst the noise level. We were no exception!
When the Malaysian players came out to warm-up, all hell broke loose. It was simply defeaning! Equally loud were the boos for the Lions. People were also chanting "Lo-ser, lo-ser", which was pretty dodgy and unoriginal in my mind though. Haha.
But the highlight of the pre-game must be the singing of "Negaraku" by 85,000 people. I had goosebumps and had to hold back tears. Will upload the video in the next post.
To be honest though, I had a bad feeling right after this about our team. We weren't about to walk on to the pitch and be HANDED a 2-0 win. There were still question marks about our defence, and I wasn't sure if the big crowd would be 100% a motivating factor or a pressure inducer.
When the game finally started, we looked nervous and true enough, the defence was sloppy. Without captain Safiq Rahim who was red-carded in the first leg, the midfield had no anchor and creativity. And if it weren't for goalkeeper Khairul Fahmi, we would have been a couple of goals down by halftime. Meanwhile upfront, Safee Sali had too much to do all by himself and only managed to suss out one clear chance.
But at halftime, I thought we'd still make it if we scored one quick goal. The crowd was very restless indeed. And everyone was talking about the shaky defence.
Restlessness then turned into pure joy when Safee slotted in the ball beautifully in the 57th minute. The place went berserk! The noise was out of this world as thousands celebrated the much-awaited goal. Giler ah!
With that, we were in for a grandstand finish. Score another one and we'd go through on goal difference. Was this our destiny?
Unfortunately, the defence failed to hold ground, and Singapore scored in the 71st minute through one of their "naturalised" players, Jia Yi. This time, the silence was defeaning in the stadium. And it knocked the wind out of our Harimau Malaya, really.
But something even more upsetting happened after that. The Singapore players decided to ditch the spirit of sportsmanship and basically dived and faked injury at every opportunity. This stopped the game every few minutes and disrupted Malaysia's tempo.
Really, I thought it was totally uncalled for, and it reminded me why I hated the Lions when they were part of the Malaysia Cup all those years back. To sum it up: memang macam sial.
And with that as well, part of the angry crowd turned unruly and started hurling stuff on to the pitch. A sad sight, nevertheless.
The game ended 1-1 and we we out of the pre-World Cup. The goals never really did come and the defence didn't deliver. BUT, everyone could see that the players DID play their heart out, despite the shortcomings. And for that, you have my RESPECT Harimau Malaya!
And instead of remembering the heartache, I'd like to leave you with this video, shot right after we scored that goal... (please don't mind the angle)