Another year of football will be coming to a close very soon and 2018 can rightly be claimed as a wonderful year for Malaysian football. A revival on international front has seen a more positive mode in the country going into the brand new year of 2019.
When there's good, there's also bad and there were plenty of those moment throughout the year. Goal look back at an incredible 12 months of football through various competitions and recaps the year that just went by.
The opening of the ASEAN quota in the M-League saw plenty of teams taking advantage of the situation with more players from around the region making a beeline to Malaysian shores. Misagh Bahadoran, Alvaro Sivla, Chan Vathanaka, Keo Sokpheng, Evan Dimas and Ilham Udin among many who made the move. Johor Darul Ta'zim suffered a heavy 5-2 defeat at the hands of Muangthong United in the AFC Champions League playoff to go straight into the AFC Cup competition.
But the first month of the year would be most remembered by the performance of Ong Kim Swee's Malaysia Under-23 side in the 2018 AFC U23 Championship. Victory over Saudi Arabia secured an unlikely passage to the knockout stage of the competition held in China and the Young Tigers fought valiantly against the more fancied South Korea before succumbing to a 2-1 defeat at the quarterfinal stage.
The then FMLLP gained plenty of accolades for securing RM90 million worth of deals with Telekom Malaysia, iflix and Ampersand Sports that saw a change of the live matches moving to a more digital friendly era. They however slapped the wrists of 10 teams who could not complete their team registration according to requirements of the league. Selangor and PKNS FC held top spot in the Super League at the start of the month but JDT reclaimed the seat on the throne before the month was over.
Syamer Kutty Abba and Dominic Tan were sent on a half season loan stint with Portuguese club Vilaverdense FC following their sparkling performances in the AFC U23 Championship. Ong Kim Swee spent a month learning the ropes at Spanish giants, Atletico Madrid while closer to home, Azraai Khor took over the head coach role at struggling Negeri Sembilan in a bid to revive the flagging fortunes.
HRH Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim (TMJ) sent shockwave throughout the country by signaling his intention to resign as the president of Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) after less than one year in the role. There were also plenty of changes at the club he owned with JDT losing Ulisses Morais due to personal reason while Jorge Pereyra Diaz left the team abruptly and on his own accord.
Elsewhere changes also were seen in Kedah, Selangor and Kelantan with Nidzam Adzha replacing Ramon Marcote, Nazliazmi Nasir replacing P. Maniam and Fajr Ibrahim taking over from Sathit Bensoh. In Tan Cheng Hoe's first match in charge of Malaysia as head coach, he could only guide Malaysia to a 2-2 draw against lowly Mongolia in a friendly match played at Bukit Jalil National Stadium.
After much deliberation, FAM finally accepted the resignation of TMJ and the governing body is set to open nominations for a new president. In the final 2019 Asian Cup qualifying match, Malaysia lost narrowly 2-1 to Lebanon in Beirut but recovered quickly to hammer Bhutan 7-0 in Kuala Lumpur to give the national team its first win since 2016. Zaquan Adha was named as national team captain during this round of international matches.
Over on the club front, Pahang knocked JDT out of the FA Cup in the quarterfinals. They were joined in the last eight of the competition by the likes of Selangor, PKNS and PKNP FC. JDT's troubles in cup competition continued after an away defeat to Persija Jakarta meant that they were staring at an early exit from the AFC Cup competition as well. The Southern Tigers were hoping that the recruitment of Harry Novillo could spark the team into life once again.
The opening of the mid-season transfer window saw most teams doing business to improve their respective squads. Khairul Fahmi moving to Melaka United from Kelantan, Issey Nakajima to Pahang and JDT securing Jorge Santos were among the more notable moves. The changes weren't limited to players as E. Elavarasan took over from Eduardo Almeida at Melaka while Mario Lemos replaced Azraai at Negeri Sembilan.
Lower down in the Premier League, Kuantan FA were expelled from the competition after their financial troubles while Perlis were also tasked with coughing up their own unpaid wages. The draw for the 2018 AFF Suzuki Cup was done and Malaysia were once again drawn in the same group at Vietnam, Myanmar and Cambodia; echoing the group stage of the 2016 edition.
The changes would continue in the month of June as Kelantan appoints their third head coach of the season with Yusri Che Lah taking over from Fajr. Malaysian duo Curran Ferns and Shahrel Fikri make the journey up north to join up with Thai clubs, Sukhothai FC and Nakhon Ratchasima FC respectively. So unimpressed with Novillo and Santos, JDT swapped their imports out again with Fernando Elizari and Fernando Marquez coming into the club.
A more seismic change happened at Selangor where Subahan Kamal relinquished his position as the president, paving way for royalty Tengku Amir Shah to take over the reins at the association. Over in Major League Soccer, a momentous occasion occurred as Wan Kuzain netted his first goal for Sporting KC to be the first Malaysian to score in the league history.
The FA Cup reached its climax with Selangor and Pahang squaring off in the final. Goals from Nor Azam Azih and Patrick Cruz meant that The Elephants won the first big trophy on offer in the Malaysian football calendar. It was followed by Felda United clinching the Premier League title and securing promotion to the Super League in 2019. To cap it all, JDT beat Perak in Ipoh to claim their fifth successive Super League title and a place in the group stage of the 2019 AFC Champions League competition.
Dato Hamidin bin Mohd Amin was installed as the new president of FAM and there were early successes in his reign as Malaysia beat Fiji in an international friendly while the Under-19s won the 2018 AFF U19 Championship in Indonesia despite crowd troubles from their earlier group matches.
Ong Kim Swee's preparation for the Asian Games did not go as plan after a massive brawl ensued in the closing minutes of his Malaysia U23 match against United Arab Emirates U23 at Shah Alam Stadium. Kim Swee's boys were leading 2-0 when all hell broke lose that led to the match to be ended abruptly. Malaysia would go on to shock South Korea to reach the quarterfinal stage, only to be upstaged by Japan.
The Malaysia Cup kicked off and there were plenty of shock results as well, none more so than MIFA achieving an unbelievable 1-2 win over JDT at Tan Sri Dato Haji Hassan Yunos Stadium in the opening match. Former player, Luciano Figueroa was named as JDT's new team manager with Benjamin Mora returning to the first team fold.
Terengganu became the first team to qualify for the 2018 Malaysia Cup knockout stage and they were followed by the usual names in JDT, Perak and Pahang. Irfan Bakti's team would earn a semi-final encounter against JDT while Mehmet Durakovic's Perak side were drawn against Sabah in the other last four fixture.
The AFC U16 Championship started in Malaysia with the host country handing Tajikistan a 7-2 hammering on the opening day that was played under terrible weather conditions. Tan Cheng Hoe had a mixed month of results after losing 2-0 away to Chinese Taipei but earned a 1-3 win over Cambodia in Phnom Penh after a Shahrel Fikri cameo in the second half propelled the team to comeback from being a goal down.
FAM unveiled their F30 plan to 2030. Lim Teong Kim's U16 side crashed out of the AFC tournament after successive defeats to Thailand and Japan which put the whole National Football Development Programme into sharp focus as they failed their first big test. Similar fortunes also faced Bojan Hodak's U19 team who were knocked out of the AFC U19 Championship in the group stage. There were however more positive news with the senior team as they beat Sri Lanka 1-4 as Mohamadou Sumareh makes his Malaysia debut.
It was an incredible match in the Malaysia Cup final as Terengganu square off against Perak. Brendan Gan's stoppage time equaliser dragged the match into extra time and a late own goal from Igor Zonjic ensure that penalty kicks would decide the winner. Hafizul Hakim pulled off great saves in the shootout to lead Perak to glory in a match that will also be remembered for the remarkable performance of match referee, Suresh Jayaraman.
After finishing top scorer of the season for JDT, Safawi Rasid was named as the Most Valuable Player in the 2018 National Football Awards. He scored in Malaysia's final preparation match before the start of the AFF Suzuki Cup, in a 3-0 friendly win over Maldives at Bukit Jalil. Malaysia started the AFF campaign with a slim 0-1 win over Cambodia before handing Laos a 3-1 defeat.
Cheng Hoe would suffer his first defeat in the competition away at Vietnam but recovered strongly to beat Myanmar 3-0 in front of a packed home stadium to reach the semi-final stage where the highly fancied Thailand side lay await. In domestic matters, B. Sathianathan takes over at Selangor while JDT signed Aaron Niguez, the brother to Atletico's Saul but also ended their association with Safiq Rahim.
Malaysia dominated the first leg against Thailand at home but could not find the back of the net. A tough second leg at Rajamangala Stadium proved to be the case but Malaysia recovered twice to draw level through Syahmi Safari and Norshahrul Idlan Talaha. But it took a Adisak Kraisorn missed penalty in the dying embers of the match to seal a place in the final by virtue of having scored away from home.
The away goal would prove costly to Malaysia in the showpiece final as Vietnam clinched a 2-2 draw in Kuala Lumpur before a solitary goal from Nguyen Anh Duc at My Dinh Stadium ended sent Malaysia packing in the second leg. Elsewhere Selangor added Faiz Nasir to their team, Hadi Fayyadh joins J2 club Fagiano Okayama while Zafuan Azeman was given a trial at Italian Serie B side, Venezia.
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