Fans in Malay malaise

Chris Wang catches up with some local football fans at the Asian Cup in Kuala Lumpur.

    Malaysian fans at the Bukit Jalil Stadium before the
    Asian Cup match between Malaysia and China
    [Aljazeera]

    The circular roofing atop the stands of Kuala Lumpur's Bukit Jalil National Stadium is held in place by some sizable rafters.

    The crowd that turned up to see the opening Group C match of the AFC Asian Cup was no where near packed to the aforementioned overhead structures, but they made up for it with some enthusiastic cheering in volume disproportionate to their numbers.

    Attendance at the second match of the group between Iran and Uzbekistan was made up almost entirely of visiting supporters from west and central Asia, but the traveling fans could only manage to fill a mere four bays of the 87,000 capacity stadium.

    With the home side getting walloped 5-1 on home soil in its first Asian Cup finals match since 1980, and other hosts Vietnam, Indonesia and Thailand having all enjoyed early victories, it will be interesting to see just how faithful Malaysian football fans are to their national team with matches against Iran and Uzbekistan to come.

    Many Malaysian football fans are obsessed with the big clubs from the English Premier League, and that competition's ever-growing marketing and promotion along with a quality on-field product have worked wonders across Asia, especially in the south east.

    The fascination of clubs from Europe has taken the focus off the national teams and indeed the national leagues of these so-called 'football-mad' countries.

    Pride

    However there were still some fans who chose to don their yellow and black-striped shirts and head out to Bukit Jalil to see the first Asian Cup hosted in their country.

    "I'm very proud and excited, because this is the first time the Asian Cup has come to Malaysia," Muhammad Najmi, a fan of the Malaysia national team, told Al Jazeera before the match against China.

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    "I am surprised, because this is the first time in Malaysia.  I wish the Malaysian team good luck," added Izfar Aslam.

    "I think their chances are quite slim, especially grouped with China and Iran but with luck we hope they'll reach the second round."

    "They are not at such a good level, but we're still very proud," said Nor Azly Abdul Rahaman.

    A view to England

    Current champions Manchester United, the biggest Premier League club side of all, were scheduled to play a match in Kuala Lumpur just two days before the Asian Cup final, however the fixture was vetoed by the Asian Football Confederation as they had an agreement with all host nations not to promote or hold any other matches during July that might detract from the Asian Cup.

    "I was very disappointed that Manchester United did not come to Malaysia," Najmi said.

    "Disappointed.  Very disappointed," concurred Akmal Hafiz.

    When asked which club sides the Malays followed, there was no doubt where their allegiances lay.

    "English Premier League.  Manchester United, Chelsea, all of them," said Abdul Rahman.

    "Manchester United and Arsenal," said Heszkeen.

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    The Malaysian Super League is the name of the top flight in national football here, with the Malaysian fans saying it is reasonably well followed.

    "Kedah and Selangor are the big teams. Kedah is the most popular," Najmi said.

    "The team with the most glorious history is Selangor, but now Perlis has recently won the title," added Izfar.

    When asked whether they would prefer to attend a live match between the Malaysian national team and Brazil or a live match between Manchester United and Chelsea, the answers were pretty much predictable.

    "Of course, Manchester," said Akmal.

    "I have already seen the Malaysian national team," he explained.

    Heszkeen added: "Manchester and Chelsea. That would be a very good match."

    The others concurred, nodding and smiling in agreement at the thought of seeing the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney up against Frank Lampard and Dider Drogba.

    Still, as they walked up the stairs towards the imposing Bukit Jalil National Stadium, you couldn't doubt the conviction in their chants of 'Ma-lay-sia! Ma-lay-sia!', amid a sea of yellow and black stripes swathed with the blue and red striped national flag.

    A good showing at the Asian Cup may well bring the Malaysia fans back after all.

    SOURCE: Aljazeera


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