A 6-0 result is not a scoreline usually associated with a nation such as Malaysia, a feat last achieved during the 2008 Merdeka Tournament when they overwhelmed Afghanistan en route to the final. Four years on, and with ever-increasing progress, the Malayan Tigers emulated the achievement in an April international against Sri Lanka, a result which helped lift them three notches in this month’s FIFA/Coca Cola World Ranking to 153.
This triumph not only marks their biggest win over the past four years, but comes as a shot in the arm for the Malaysians as they continue a rebuilding campaign. The win helped catapult Malaysia to 26th in Asia, surpassing regional power Singapore by five spots.
Responsible for the team's tremendous progress is coach Rajagobal Krishnasamy, who two years ago guided his side to their first-ever ASEAN Football Federation Championship title, the regional championship otherwise known as the Suzuki Cup. As the former Malaysian international striker pointed out, the victory came as a timely boost for the team as they aim to retain their crown in this November's 2012 Suzuki Cup as co-hosts alongside Thailand.
"It was an important win for the players' confidence," the 55-year-old told FIFA.com in a recent interview, "As a coach, it gave me motivation to look on the positive sides as we are preparing for this year's Suzuki Cup."
Once an Asian power, Malaysia were regional strugglers by the 1980s and had made little impression on the international scene until Krishnasamy took over in 2009. The Suzuki Cup success, understandably, kick-started a revival of the nation’s football fortunes. The next aim will be a return to their heady days of the 1970s when Malaysia twice qualified for Men's Olympic Football Tournaments (1972, 1980) and reached the AFC Asian Cup on two consecutive occasions (1976, 1980).
A renowned youth coach following his exploits with the Malaysia U-20 and Olympic team, Krishnasamy is all too aware that the younger generation are the key to the country's development. A series of new faces broke into the national team last year when they edged out Chinese Taipei on away goals to progress into Asia's second qualifying round for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™, only to then lose out against old rivals Singapore 6-4 over two legs.
My philosophy is building a strong national team with young talents.
The latest Sri Lanka match saw as many as eight U-23 players make it into Krishnasamy’s experimental squad with Ahmad Hazwan Bakri the most eye-catching. Brought on only as a second-half substitute in his international debut, the 20-year-old striker completed a hat-trick to be a stand out among the country's emerging starlets.
"He is the first Malayan player to score three times in his first international appearance," said Krishnasamy. "My philosophy is building a strong national team with young talents."
With the Malaysian Super League's smooth development over recent years, there are an increasing number of youngsters pushing for international selection, much to the satisfaction of the coach. "It ensures that we can watch the young players perform at a high level," said Krishnasamy.
Indonesian-based Safee Sali remains the team's talisman and Krishnasamy is hoping more players can move overseas to gain further improvement. "He (Sali) has set a good example for the local players through his performance," said Krishnasamy. "I definitely encourage our players to move to higher-level overseas clubs in order that we can have a side capable of competing with Asia’s best. Our next goal is to reach the 2015 AFC Asian Cup in Australia."