We beat South Korea!

South Korea 1 – Malaysia 2

It’s not a typo.

Ong Kim Swee’s boys have come good in Indonesia.

Let’s put the result in context, in football terms.

South Korea has been at every World Cup Finals since 1982, that’s ten on the trot and finished fourth in 2002. Malaysia has never been to one.

The last world cup was bittersweet for the Koreans, who were out by the time they lined up for their last group match, but turned their fortunes or at least win much plaudits by knocking out the champions, Germany.

Malaysia’s own participation in that World Cup ended prematurely two years before in 2016 (regional qualifiers).

Koreans are 57th in the world, while Malaysia languishes in at 171 out of 211 nations, looking up at St Lucia while Gambia below us. All around us in the ranking are exotic tourism destinations, well minus Singapore anyways.

So, it is unbridled joy, this victory.

Son, gutted at the final whistle.

Granted this is an age-group competition (below 23, with three over-aged players allowed), it is nevertheless the Asian Games, and it is heavily contested. That’s why South Korea asked Son Heung-min to skip the start of the English Premier League to lead his country to defend its title. Son is the highest ranked Asian player, and therefore Korea had many reasons to want this.

They came to win, and instead lost to the team expected to be at the bottom of the group.

The presumptive pushovers have already qualified for the last 16, with a match yet to be played. Kyrgyzstan lost 3-1 to Harimau Malaya days before. Korea on the other hand, pummelled Bahrain 6-0 in their opening match.

Above it all, in the Malaysian football psyche if the name South Korea is pulled up for a match, excitement builds.

Always, always, Malaysia compares itself with its erstwhile nemesis.

The last time Malaysia would have beaten them in any match of consequence would have been the 1986 World Cup qualifier. Dollah Salleh scored the only goal in the 1985 match.

South Korea did duly beat us in the return leg, part of the group stage, and went to Mexico — where they completed their journey by kicking Diego Maradona for ninety minutes before losing 3-1 to eventual champions, Argentina.

Tomorrow

There is the last 16 round and tournament football has its ups and down, especially if through to the knockouts. A team has to experience seven matches and win the last one to be champions. It will be game three for us, and a four (last 16). Whether there will be a game five will be about approach, attitude and a little luck.

They lack experience at that level (Malaysia last won a medal, bronze, in football at the 1974 Asian Games in Iran).

There will be much pressure building on the team at the juncture, and the only sensible thing to tell them is to enjoy themselves. Underdogs will initial success will carry on with glee if they do not take themselves too seriously. Worry and let the weight of the competition fall on you, then it becomes torturous.

But already it has been a success, this competition.

As for Malaysian football after this, there is still a mountain to climb in getting more football structures, knowledge and profitable league to shape a powerful national team.

But for today, and many tomorrows, we will repeat unashamedly: We’ve beaten the South Koreans.

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