AS a super typhoon pummeled Japan on Saturday, causing death and destruction, several Malaysian football coaches were caught in the middle of it.
It was one of the most frightening days of their lives for UKM FC coach Sulaiman Hussin, Dollah Salleh, Mehmet Durakovic, K. Devan, Irfan Bakti and Zainal Abidin Hassan who were in Japan for two weeks to attend an Asian Football Confederation (AFC) coaching course.
Following the completion of their course, the coaches stayed at a hotel in Niigata, Japan, on Saturday before boarding their return flight to Kuala Lumpur yesterday.
On Saturday, Typhoon Hagibis, the strongest storm to hit Japan in six decades, slammed into the country’s main island of Honshu, triggering landslides and flooding.
Sulaiman described the experience of staying in his hotel room, when the storm hit Niigata, as frightening.
Amid the terrifying typhoon, the 42-year-old Sulaiman’s mind was not only on his safety but also on the return leg (Saturday) of the Challenge Cup final between his team and Johor Darul Ta’zim II (JDT II) at KLFA Stadium in Cheras.
Although UKM managed to overturn the first leg deficit for a 1-1 aggregate draw, JDT II won 6-5 on penalties for the Challenge Cup crown.
“I feared for my life. Everyone was scared, but we kept calm and were instructed to remain indoors as the hotel locked all exit points. The typhoon hit Niigata between 4pm and midnight... it was really scary,” said Sulaiman when contacted via WhatsApp in Niigata yesterday.
“It was my first close encounter with a typhoon, and I hope I would never experience it again. Everyone is okay but of course, we are still feeling the effects of the typhoon.”
Asked whether he watched the Challenge Cup final on the Internet, Sulaiman said: “Yes, luckily, the Internet was fine.
“I watched the match on my laptop with Dollah, Zainal and Irfan in my room. However, we were also thinking about our safety as the match started.
“I communicated with my assistant coaches (Juzaili Samion, Rezal Zambery Yahya and Yusrizal Yusoff) at half-time and spoke about strategies.
“The changes did work as UKM scored a goal to take the tie into extra-time,” said Sulaiman, who played as a midfielder for Kuala Lumpur between 1993-98.
On UKM’s loss to JDT II in the Challenge Cup final, Sulaiman said he was nevertheless proud of his team.
“We had a slow start to our Premier League season as I was trying out new tactics. However, we picked up after 14 matches into the league and it worked.
“The team earned crucial wins and avoided being relegated. Overall, I am happy that we managed to finish runners-up in the Challenge Cup although we came close to winning it.
“We are a small club and some of our core players are undergraduates, so reaching this far in the tournament for a second straight season is a great effort.”
Among the players who are UKM undergraduates and former students are captain Asnan Ahmad, Wan Afiq Wan Kasbi, Saiful Hasnol, Aliff Jamaluddin, Abdul Gafur Samsudin, Izzat Ikmal Azpawi, Zarul Aidiel Aziz, Hafiz Zalani, Fitri Zaim, Faiz Hanif Adnan, Azri Zulkiflee, Arip Amiruddin, Akmal Zahir and Wan Faiz Wan Sulaiman.
Sulaiman brushed off talk that UKM are withdrawing from the M-League next season.
“UKM will definitely play next season. Our management will work hard to look for sponsors. The players are eager to don UKM colours again next season.
“My contract ends next month. I have received a few offers, but my heart says that I should continue working with UKM.
“It all depends on whether the management still need my services. I also have to see what are UKM’s plans for the new season,” Sulaiman added.