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Football fans all set to cheer Harimau Malaya against the United Arab Emirates in the second round of the 2022 World Cup/2023 Asian Cup qualifiers today. NSTP/AIZUDDIN SAAD

KUALA LUMPUR:As Malaysia gears up to face the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in the second round of the 2022 World Cup/2023 Asian Cup qualifiers at the National Stadium in Bukit Jalil today, loyal Harimau Malaya fans are looking forward to the match with excitement,especially after the national squad’s heroics in Jakarta last Thursday.

Malaysia overcame the odds to beat arch-rivals Indonesia 3-2 at Gelora Bung Karno stadium.

Some of them took the time to share their thoughts and hopes for Harimau Malaya and on how football can do a world of good not just for the fans but for the country in uniting people from all walks of life.

THE FAMILY

For Azlan Nursham Anuar, 44, a contractor, and his wife Ainie Hairianie Aluwi, 42, a Universiti Teknologi Mara lecturer, supporting and encouraging their son’s passion for football in general, and for Harimau Malaya in particular, is something that comes naturally.

‘Our son Abdul Aziz , 13, a Form One student at Victoria Institution, only supports two teams on the international arena - Malaysia and Germany.But Harimau Malaya is his first love.

‘We began attending the national team’s matches in 2014 during the AFF Cup due to Aziz’s insistence after he saw how passionate the Ultras Malaya were,’ said Azlan.

Aziz has no regrets about attending each match that the national squad plays, even if it means to getting his parents to take him abroad for matches.

The teenager said one of his sweetest memories as a travelling supporter was of Thailand’s Adisak Kraison’s missed penalty against Malaysia during last year’s AFF Cup semi-final at the Rajamangala Stadium.

There have been bittersweet memories as well.

‘When we went to MyDinh Stadium in Hanoi, we ended up going to bed hungry because there were no eateries open after the match. To add insult to the injury, Malaysia had lost the match but it never broke my spirit or unwavering support.

‘During that trip, I was on a motorbike taxi, wearing the Malaysian jersey and proudly waving the Jalur Gemilang. The Vietnam fans weren’t upset. Some even posed for photographs with us, which was really cool,’ said Aziz, who aspires to become a top footballer, and if not, then become Harimau Malaya’s No. 1 fan.

Azlan is proud and happy with his son’s passion for the national team even if it means queuing up for hours at the ticket counter or waiting online for match tickets.

‘For us, football isn’t just a sport and Harimau Malaya isn’t just a team. It takes us away from our daily troubles and struggles, and there’s no difference of race, skin colour, status or standing.

‘We are all Malaysians united behind our national side, and we are confident our boys will do well and get the better of the UAE in tonight’s match.

‘The three of us will be in the stands at Bukit Jalil. Aziz wouldn’t miss it for the world,” Azlan said while hugging his son.

THE TIGRESSES

P. Kogillavany, 28, currently pursuing a degree in Public Relations at Management and Science University, Shah Alam, fell in love with football in 2000 while still in primary school.

She said her passion for the national team came from how it united Malaysians and fostered a sense of national pride.

‘This (during matches) is how friendships and bonds are forged.We were total strangers before but are now friends. It’s a perfect expression of many of the greater parts of life: freedom, beauty, and passion.

‘Harimau Malaya is not just a team but a unifying factor for the Malaysians. Our national team represents the spirit of our nation’s harmony and togetherness.

‘My hope is to see Malaysia playing in the World Cup in my lifetime.’

For Azita Zainal Abidin, 40, a corporate trainer, her love for football was cultivated when she was a schoolgirl in the 90’s watching Johor play in the Malaysian League and Malaysia Cup matches which then led her to follow the exploits of the national side.

‘A couple of years ago, I began to develop a keen interest in Harimau Malaya, thanks to Datuk Ong Kim Swee when he was in charge.

‘I know it’s a long shot but I really hope coach Tan Cheng Hoe and his players can do well and pull off the unthinkable by qualifying for the 2022 World Cup.There’s a popular saying ‘anything can happen in football’, right?’

BOYS WILL BE BOYS

Film director and producer Prakash Murugiah, 37, is so passionate about Malaysian football and Harimau Malaya that he made a film about it.

His movie, titled Suatu Ketika - Langitkan Impianmu,revolved around football in Malaya in the 1950s and is set for release in theatres on Thursday.

‘When we were shooting the movie, I reminded the cast and crew that our beloved country and its football is important because it brings us together. We even sang Negaraku before we began shooting.

‘For tonight’s match against the UAE, the cast and I will be in the stands at Bukit Jalil to lend support to our national side.

‘I want them (the cast) to experience and feel the national pride from a football perspective,’said Prakash.

As for Dr Anwar Norazit, 39, a lecturer at Universiti Malaya, he said his love for the sport and the national side came about due to his late father and uncle.

‘My late father was crazy about football and my uncle, Datuk Nordin Selat,used to manage the Selangor side in the 90’s when I was still in school.

‘My passion grew after witnessing the skills,achievements and exploits of our football greats such as the late Mokhtar Dahari and R. Arumugam.

‘I am confident that Harimau Malaya can do better this time around because they are playing to the best of their ability.

‘In the match against Indonesia last Thursday, they fought like tigers despite falling behind in the first half and never gave up. We are firmly behind you all the way, Harimau Malaya!’

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