Tuesday, 7 August 2007

There's Still A Light - U20 qualifies for AFF Final

Perhaps the future is not too dim after all! While everyone back home is fussing about the Under-19 (The Maggi Boys) starting their Champions Youth Cup assignment tomorrow evening and the Under-23 (The Travelling Boys) playing 'guess who's our next opponent here in Slovakia?' game (see here), K Rajagobal Under-20 boys are creating waves by qualifying for the final (yes, the final!) of the ASEAN Football Federation Under-20 Championship (what we call the Tiger Cubs Cup) in Vietnam.

After qualifying for the knock-out round in a typical, come-back-from-behind ala Bollywood heroes kind of way (read our short report here), the U20 were slated to meet Group A leader Thailand in the semis yesterday evening.

Thailand steamrolled through their group, scoring 15 goals and letting in only 1 goal by winning in their games against Brunei (5-0) and Cambodia (7-0) and drawing with host Vietnam (1-1) and are favourites to win the Championship.

Malaysia, who according to coach K Rajagobal, "can play well up to the midfield but beyond that, they struggle due to the lack of calibre strikers", still managed to score 11 times in the group match, which is 3 more goals than leaders Myanmar.

Banking on the trio of captain K. Gurusamy, Ahmad Fakri Saarani and Abdul Shukur Yusuf, the U20 has done well to qualify for the finals, emulating the same achievement in the previous tournament, something their Senior brothers are unable to do in the Tiger Cup since 1996. The trio were the only players in the team with experience at the international level as they have been a consistent performer under Rajagobal where they featured in his plans in last year’s AFC Under-20 Championship in India.

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Firdaus Azizul (Left - Scored against Singapore) and Fakri Saarani (R)

In the semi-final game at the Thanh Long Sports Comples in Ho Chi Minh City, Malaysia defeated Thailand 2-1 with goals from Ahmad Fakri Saarani and Yusaini Che Saad. With this win, Malaysia will now meet Vietnam who defeated defending champion Myanmar in the other semi-final.

For the record, Malaysia finished as runners-up to Myanmar after losing 0-1 in the last tournament in Palembang, Indonesia.

K Rajagobal has mentioned that the AFF U20 Championship is to prepare the boys for a more important mission, the Under-19 Asian Cup Qualifiers in October. For the qualifiers, Malaysia has been grouped in Group F alongside North Korea, China, Macau, Singapore and Timor Leste.

In the finals of the Under-19 Asian Cup last year, Malaysia (also coached by Rajagobal finished last in the group which also included Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam

Well done boys, GOOD LUCK for the finals!

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