Friday, July 22, 2011


The Causeway Derby

Been looking forward to this game ever since the World Cup Qualifiers were announced a few months back. OK, Malaysia had to overcome a tricky Chinese Taipei first but they did so and now we have it.

Singapore are one of the most successful teams in the history of Malaysian football, as Chairman Mao would have said the neighbours are like lips and teeth. But since 1994 Singapore pulled out of Malaysian professional football to go their own way.

For several years the Lions were the top dogs across ASEAN with success after success at the ASEAN Football Federation Cup as well as good runs in the last World Cup Qualifiers.

However the last couple of years have seen Malaysia resurgent. They have won the SEA Games and last year's AFF Cup and are the only country from the region still in the Olympic Qualifiers. And while Singapore prepared for this weekend's game with friendlies against Maldives and Chinese Taipei, Malaysia have played Hong Kong, Cambodia, Qatar, Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea!

The game on Saturday at the cramped Jalan Besar Stadium is a sell out with some fans queuing overnight and all tickets gone within eight hours.

Singapore have the experience. Players like Mustafic Fahruddin, Aleksander Duric and Daniel Bennett have been there, done that. They know the score. Coach raddy Avramovic, formerly Notts County and Coventry City keeper, has guided the Lions through the most successful spell in their history but they have reached a rocky patch now.

Failure to qualify for the semi finals of the AFF Cup last year brought about much soul searching with even the normally anonymous FA Chairman being quoted in the media as saying all the team will be dropped.

When Singapore get it right they are still a formidable opponent. Organised, tough and hard working though perhaps missing a bit of flair at times; the continuing absence of Ahmad Latiff puzzles many on the island.

There is a Jekyll & Hyde nature to the Lions. Take for example an AFC Asian Cup Qualifier at home to Thailand in 2008. The Thais passed and moved Singapore to death winning 3-1 and the Singapore public, almost to a man, went public with their whines about how the team, and the coach, were past their sell by date and anyway it was all a waste of money. (When it comes to whining Singaporeans can give Australians a run for their money!)

Second leg however, the Lions won 1-0!

Malaysia have the best habit in the football world. The habit of winning. Many of the youthful squad were involved in the SEA Games success of 2009 as well as the AFF Cup triumph last year. Indeed Arsene Wenger could learn a bit from coach Rajagobal's methods given the drough Arsenal way!

Players like Khairul Fahmie, Safiq Rahim, S Kunanlan, Safee Sali and Norshahrul Idlan Talaha are among the brightest talents in the region and while Sali already plays in Indonesia with Pelita Jaya there is talk that Khairul and Safiq maybe following him south.

It promises to be a fascinating match up between two contrasting styles and I am for one really looking forward to it. Plus of course a few cold beers served by the inimitable Mabel!

As to who wins? I really don't care! It's gonna be a great advert for South East Asian football!

Someone left a message on my blog FB wall and highlighted this ..

"An error in the post to take note of: This Malaysian team did not play against Chelsea as part of their warm up to the Causeway Derby. The team that lost 1-0 to Chelsea was a Selection Side!"
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