BY ZULHILMI ZAINAL Follow on Twitter
After reaching the final of the previous and inaugural edition of the AFF Cup (then Tiger Cup) in 1996, expectations were high for the then Malayan Tigers in the 1998 edition, held in Vietnam.
As runners up in 1996, Malaysia were assured qualification to the group stage, alongside defending champions Thailand, and hosts and third-placed Vietnam, and fourth-placed Indonesia.
The qualification stage, which featured six teams divided into two three-team groups for that edition, saw Myanmar qualify as Group A winners, Laos as runners up, Singapore as Group B winners and the Philippines as the runners up.
Hatem Souissi was the head coach at the time, and he selected mainly younger players to take to Vietnam, including one Khalid Jamlus, then a fresh-faced 21-year old. Another name that maybe familiar with the current fans is then 23-year old Pahang defender Jalaluddin Jaafar, who retired from playing in 2015.
The tournament was a poor affair for Malaysia from the get go. In their opening match on 26 August 1998, they fell to a meek 2-0 defeat to Causeway rivals Singapore at the Hanoi Stadium, through goals by Rafi Ali and Ahmad Latiff Khamaruddin.
Malaysia then did not help their cause, when they were held 0-0 by unfancied Laos in their second group match, on August 28.
Even then, Malaysia still had a slim chance to qualify, if they managed to defeat hosts Vietnam in their last group match. But on August 30, just one day before Malaysia's National Day, the national football team fell to a 1-0 defeat to Vietnam, with the only goal of the match scored by Nguyen Hong Son.
As a result, the Harimau Malaya exited the tournament at the group stage, one of only two times Malaysia failed to reach the knockout stage in the competition's history. But the 1998 edition bears the reputation as the country's worst turnout in the AFF Cup due to one fact; they failed to score even once in the tournament.
Group B 1998 AFF Cup table and Malaysia's match results. Source: Wikipedia
Singapore finished Group B as champions, despite having arrived in Vietnam with very little expectations, while the host country were the runners up.
Meanwhile in Group A, Thailand and Indonesia brought the tournament into disrepute in their final group match. As the practice of holding the last group matches at the same time was not yet in place at the time, the two sides confirmed their qualification to the knockout stage hours before they were due to play each other on August 31. Both sides wanted to avoid finishing as group winners and having to play Vietnam in the semis, and refused to play properly. With the match tied at 2-2 and seconds to go in the match, Indonesia defender Mursyid Effendi put the ball in his own net and the match ended in a 3-2 win to Thailand, but the word 'win' is used rather generously here.
Both sides would later be fined $40,000 by FIFA for "violating the spirit of the game", while Mursyid would be banned from international football for life.
And their embarrassing attempt would come to naught. Indonesia then lost 2-1 to Singapore, while Thailand were trounced 3-0 by Vietnam, in the semi-finals.
Singapore then produced one of the greatest upsets of the tournament history in the final match, beating Vietnam 1-0 in front of the home crowd on September 5, thanks to R. Sasikumar's 65th minute goal, to capture their first ever AFF Cup title.