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If we pitch it right, the Asia Cup will be ours. Thereafter, the World Cup.

COME tomorrow, Harimau Malaya — fresh from their Jakarta jig — will take on the great Whites of the United Arab Emirates. History may point to one result, but the future is not always made like this. Harimau Malaya — notwithstanding the might of the Whites — can and must strive for the particular future they want. In striving shall Harimau’s glory be.

The gambol at Gelora Bung Karno Stadium is at most a licence to Bukit Jalil. What happens next is all up to Tan Cheng Hoe and his Harimau Malaya team. But Cheng Hoe’s men are doing better, though marginally so.

Good football, it must be said. From two goals down to 3-2 away from home. And on hostile ground at that. Cheng Hoe has taught his men well: how to soak up the pressure in the first half before letting loose his half-space strategy in the second half. Harimau Malaya were adept.

Then again, a coach can only do so much, especially when the footballer comes to him at the ripe age of a national player. More needs to be done throughout the country, and at a much earlier stage. The net is being cast, but it doesn’t catch all talent.

The Education Ministry’s talent scouts seem to hunt only at national schoolyards, leaving able players at vernacular schools outside the net. This cannot be a good catch. A national catch must serve a better dish.

Football Association of Malaysia executive committee member and chairman of the media and public relations committee Christopher Raj Aralanthu agrees. This talent-scouting system at the school level needs a big revamp, he says. Otherwise, football will become a game for a race by a race. National schools have football pitches.

Chinese schools basketball courts. Tamil schools neither. Sadly, the predominantly one-race pipeline ends in a predominantly one-race talent pool at football academies, the most famous being the Mokhtar Dahari Academy. Truth be told, this isn’t just a sad tale of football. Other sports seem to suffer similar isolation.

The schools’ football calendar, too, needs to change, says Christopher. Schoolboys aren’t playing enough, and not at the right age too. Boys playing at inter-district level get a mere four weeks of intensive play when six to seven months is ideal.

This newspaper has a good reason for featuring stories on the nation’s best pitches: we want our children to enjoy the outdoors! Picture this: Michael Owen, the former Liverpool striker and England footballer, had, at the age of 15, 150 competitive matches to his credit.

World-class players do not come with less. Our club system needs to return to the glory days of old. Many of our national players were club talent before they donned the national jersey. Where is Hong Chin, the club, for example? Or the Selangor Indian Association that produced M. Chandran? Stadiums and football pitches used to be filled to see these stars dribble and bend it long before David Beckham did.

Today, Johor Darul Ta’zim F.C. (JDT) may be doing what the old clubs did for the nation: building talent. Others may want to do the same. If we pitch it right, the Asia Cup will be ours. Thereafter, the World Cup. Perhaps.

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