Failure to regain the AFF Suzuki Cup is not the yardstick to measure Tan Cheng Hoe’s KPI when his tenure as the national football comes for review at the end of this month.
Cheng Hoe’s KPI was set by Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) president Datuk Hamidin Mohd Amin was “to at least reach the AFF Suzuki Cup final” which was duly achieved.
Vietnam defeated Malaysia 1-0 in the second leg at the My Dinh Stadium in Hanoi on Saturday for a 3-2 aggregate win and lay their hands on the Suzuki Cup they last won in 2008.
En-route to the final the Harimau Malaya sent defending champions and hot favorites Thailand crashing out of the biennial tournament in the semi-finals and that too was achieved at the famed Rajamangala Stadium in Bangkok with a fighting display with a 2-2 draw.
The stalemate was enough to send Malaysia into the final on away goals after a scoreless draw in the first leg at the National Stadium in Bangkok.
All in all it was remarkable and “amazing journey” for Cheng Hoe and company – as Malaysia was not given a chance to reach this far at the start of the tournament.
Cheng Hoe faced a lots of obstacles in getting his squad ready. There were injuries and there were clubs who did not want to release their players for national duty for reasons best known to the club owners or management.
There was also criticism from several quarters for Cheng Hoe’s style of football but the Kedahan took all in his stride to continue his brand of football and philosophy.
More importantly Cheng Hoe and his Harimau Malaya also won over the fans who stood through thick and thin and threw their full support behind the team – displaying national pride, dignity and unity never seen before.
The National Stadium in Bukit Jalil witnessed the biggest football crowds ever seen with figures touching the 100,000 mark for the home matches against Thailand (first leg semi-final) and Vietnam (first leg final). Not forgetting the vital group match against Myanmar also drew a bumper crowd.
Special mention also must be made of those fans who sold their personal collections and other football paraphernalia to make the trips to Bangkok and Hanoi to lend support to the team in the stands.
Even Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who is not a football fan, came to the National Stadium to lend support to the team for the first leg semi-final against Thailand.
Tun Dr Mahathir even watched the second leg final live on television at the hotel where he and the Malaysian delegation was staying in Bangkok during an official visit to Thailand.
Cheng Hoe has identified several flaws that need to be plugged and the former international is confident and optimistic that Malaysian football is on the “right footing” to be a powerhouse in the game in this region for a start.
Nothing is official on Cheng Hoe’s contract but it is learnt that he has been told verbally that “negotiations” for a new deal be held soon, probably before the year is out. RIZAL ABDULLAH