NATIONAL coach Datuk Ong Kim Swee had planned to celebrate his birthday on Dec 10 watching his boys play in the football final – and win.
Instead, he had to pack his bag early, and flew home to spend the day mulling over the fact that his contract will not be extended.
The football team were an abject failure in the Philippines.
They finished fourth in the easier Group A, ahead only of Timor Leste and behind Myanmar, Cambodia and the Philippines.
Yes, they had to play on an artificial pitch, but they have only themselves to blame. They failed to acclimatise to the conditions quickly.
If eventual champions Vietnam, runners-up Indonesia (both from Group B), Myanmar and Cambodia could perform on the thin artificial surface, there can be no excuses for our lads.
They looked devoid of ideas, lacked cohesion and showed no real purpose in all the matches at the Rizal Memorial Stadium.
Kim Swee could be seen continuously barking instructions at his players, but they just could not find a way out of the easier group.
The 4-0 scoreline against Timor Leste looked flattering, but to those who saw the game, Malaysia were lucky not to have conceded as the side led by Fabiano Flora had all the chances but could not hit a barn door from 10 paces.
Only the likes of Syamer Kutty Abba and Dominic Tan showed some desire and hunger to win games. Many have said the absence of star winger Safawi Rasid affected the team, while some ridiculed Kim Swee for using 3-4-3 and 3-5-2 formation during matches.
The likes of Luqman Hakim Shamsuddin and Hadi Fayyadh Abdul Razak were also lambasted for not showing their finishing touches when the latter actually scored three goals to be Malaysia’s top scorer in the tournament.
What actually happened to Kim Swee’s side? There was no hunger and passion.
There were also murmurs that some were unhappy to play in the SEA Games when the rest of their professional teammates were on holiday.
Players like that should be shown the exit. Many would dream of this opportunity.
Another reason was the adaptability to the poor pitch conditions. The surface of the pitch is thin, and teams are unable to play smooth, free-flowing football as the ball bounced awkwardly. Touches were often wayward.
This was evident in the 0-1 defeat against the Philippines and 1-3 loss against Cambodia.
Even the usually reliable Adam Nor Azlin made mistakes in most matches, but he cannot be solely faulted because in football, everyone has to share equal responsibility for the failure.
Nevertheless, this lesson was needed to show that there are no more beating boys in the region, not even Timor Leste.
But there is no need to hit the panic button.
The players must put the country first and the youngsters have to be encouraged to reach greater heights. They can, if these young players set their hearts to it.
Kim Swee has given much to the young sides. Under his lead, Malaysia won the SEA Games gold in 2011, and also qualified for the final in 2017. He has been in the forefront of youth development for many years, and one would surely look forward to his next adventure in football.