IT was a matter of honour for national U-15 player Khairil Zain, who retaliated after his teammate Aliff Izwan Yuslan was punched in the face by Thailand’s Kangpop Sroirak in the final of the AFF Championship in Chonburi on Friday.
The 15-year-old is now popular on social media for defending his teammate in the final minutes of the match.
An angry Khairil, a product of the Mokhtar Dahari Academy, punched an aggressive Kangpop who then tried to retaliate but the Malaysian player moved away from the brawl.
“It was not something that I wanted to do, but when I saw him punching my friend, I felt very angry... I treat my teammates like brothers. I just wanted to do something,” said the Sabah-born.
“Aliff and I have known each other since Standard Six. Overall, I am very happy with the win as it has always been my dream to win an Asean-level tournament.”
Khairil said being champions is fulfilling as his team played against bigger-built players in the tournament.
“We learnt a lot from the experience of playing against bigger and stronger opponents. It was a meaningful experience.
“The title is timely ahead of next month’s AFC Under-16 qualifiers.”
Malaysia are in Group J with hosts Laos, Japan and Cambodia in the qualifiers. Japan are the favourites in the group.
“We will make it tough for Japan. As a team, we trust each other and, furthermore, everyone is confident now.”
Teammate Nabil Qayyum Zainuddin said the disadvantage in size could become Malaysia’s advantage in the qualifiers.
“When you are small, you can easily outfox players who are bigger.
“We need to focus on strengthening our defence and attack ahead of the AFC qualifiers,” said Nabil, who was Malaysia’s top scorer in the AFF U-15 with five goals.