KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 31 (Bernama) -- For many Malaysian football fans the historic moment when Hassan Sani ran the length of the field to thread an exquisite pass to James Wong who swiftly scored the winning goal against South Korea that earned a slot for the 1980 Moscow Olympics, will remain etched in their memory forever.
The whole country rejoiced when Malaysia edged South Korea 2-1 on that night at the Merdeka Stadium although subsequently Malaysia boycotted the Moscow Olympics as a protest against Russia''s invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979.
On Thursday (Dec 29, 2010), after 30 years, there was a similar nostalgic euphoria in the country although this time around the action was away from the country.
The reason: Malaysia beat Indonesia 4-2 on aggregate after a two-leg final to win the AFF Suzuki Cup at the Gelora Bung Karno Stadium in Jakarta, Indonesia.
Malaysia had beaten Indonesia 3-0 at the National Stadium in Bukit Jalil during the first leg final but lost 1-2 in the second leg final at the Gelora Bung Karno Stadium.
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Malaysia were a powerhouse in Asia back in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and early 80s while the likes of Datuk Ghani Minhat, Said Ahmad, Dali Omar, Mokhtar Dahari, Isa Bakar, R. Arumugam, Soh Chin Aun and Santokh Singh to name a few.
However, after the historic feat of the 1980 era which also saw Sabah''s two pillars, James Wong-Hassan Sani combination make an impact, Malaysian football took a turn for the worst in the 1990s 2000 era.
After almost 30 years in the doldrums, there was a ray of hope when K. Rajagobal was appointed the national coach in April 2009, replacing former coach B. Sathianathan, just a few months before the Laos SEA Games in December.
Against all odds, Rajagobal, a former Selangor stalwart, worked his magic to lead the national team to a historic gold medal feat in the Laos SEA Games in Vientiane after beating Vietnam 2-0 in the final.
The gold medal ended a 20-year wait in the SEA Games and the first won outside Malaysia as the previous gold medal won in 1989 was during the Kuala Lumpur SEA Games.
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Apart from winning the SEA Games gold medal in Laos, the national team under Rajagobal also achieved a number of firsts before the AFF Cup, like beating South Korea 1-0 in a friendly and qualifying for the second stage of the Asian Games for the first time.
During the Guangzhou Asian Games, a depleted team moved into the second stage but lost 1-3 to Iran.
A string of good performances by the national team under Rajagobal, 54, saw the fans returning to the stadium in droves and during the first leg final, about 80,000 fans filled the National Stadium in Bukit Jalil.
The National Stadium was also filled to the brim when Malaysia played against English Premier League club Manchester United FC on July 18, 2009, underlining the fact that support from fans for good matches was still very much alive in Malaysia.
Rajagobal, who holds an AFC A coaching licence, comes with a history of having successfully turned average teams into winning material, especially when he led Selangor to the Premier One title in 2000 plus a semifinal appearance in the Malaysia Cup.
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He also took an ailing Kelantan side to the semifinals of the Malaysia Cup during his first year with the East Coast side in 2001/2002 before being appointed head coach for the national Under-21 squad from 2003 to 2009.
Under his guidance the national Under-21 team qualified for their first ever Asian Cup final round.
A coach who strongly believes in discipline and teamwork, says the key to reviving the glory days of Malaysian football should start from the grassroots.
Rajagobal had cited three main factors for the revival of Malaysian football, namely developing the grassroots, develop the coaches and revamp the M-League to produce potential players.
"I and everyone knows that it will not be an easy task but I am going to give it my best shot," Rajagobal had said when he was appointed coach of the senior national team.
Fondly known as Raja to his peers like legendary Mokhtar Dahari during his playing days with PKNS and Selangor, the nippy striker who still plays in veteran tournaments throughout the country, has become the man with the Midas touch to revive Malaysian football.
Thank You Rajagopal, Thank You Harimau Malaysia.
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