KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia may have lost to Singapore in their bid to make it to the next round of the World Cup qualifiers but the big winners of the night were the fans.
A sea of yellow and blue flooded the National Stadium in Bukit Jalil -- an atmosphere rarely seen before in recent times.
In the past, fans would have jeered the Tigers after a loss but not yesterday. Instead, they stood by until the final whistle was blown.
Malaysia drew 1-1 with Singapore in the second round of the return leg pre-World Cup qualifier yesterday. Singapore advanced with a 6-4 aggregate.
Safee Sali scored for Malaysia in the 58th minute, sending fans into ecstasy. The visitors equalised through Shi Jiayi in the 72nd minute.
The defeat, however, did not bruise the spirits of the fans, who had only praises for the Tigers.
Insurance agent Azrul Azam Abdul Abas, 30, said this was his third time watching Malaysia play live.
"We were running out of creative options but credit must be given to the team, especially Safee Sali. He and S. Kunalan were the live wire of the team," he said.
"Usually, fans boo our players after a loss but it was good seeing them respecting the players and appreciating the effort. The people are behind the team."
Faizul Zainuddin, 25, a clerk from KL, said fans showed they were behind the team throughout the night.
"I was confident Malaysia would win but we were banking too much on our counter-attack and lacked creativity," he said.
"We should put this loss behind us and concentrate on the SEA Games."
Thomas Loke, 49, from Cheras, said Malaysians of all backgrounds came together in support of the team and despite the defeat, it was still a win for Malaysian football.
"I think Malaysian fans will be behind this team for a long time. They have made us proud once again."
Student Sharil Nazri, 29, said this was the highest achievement for the country for now.
"Of course, it would have been better if we had won.The players gave Singapore a fight and deserve to be applauded."
Sharil, however, lamented many fans were upset with the Singaporean team, who they felt were play-acting during the match.
The stadium was packed to the brim with more than 85,000 fans, although some did not have seats and were forced to stand throughout the match while others made their way to the media boxes.
Many were at the stadium as early as 2pm as they did not want to get caught in traffic.
For love of the game
AFTER Malaysia lost 5 - 3 to Singapore during the first leg of the World Cup qualifiers last Saturday, Nazrul Azri Othman from Temerloh, Pahang decided to gather all his family members and friends to watch the second leg of the match in Bukit Jalil last night to show their support and love for the game.
It took him a few days but in the end, he managed to put together a rag-tag convoy of 10 cars and 20 motorcycles.
"We spoke about coming here even before the first leg but after Saturday's match, we decided our team needs us," said Nazrul, who became a Harimau Muda fan after Malaysia won the Suzuki Cup in December last year.
"We are disappointed Malaysia will not go on to the next stage but our Tigers have displayed good team spirit during the second half."
Nazrul's friend, Mohd Shamie Afiq, 27, said: "We left Temerloh about noon and reached here at 3pm so as not to get caught in the traffic jam. We got the tickets from a friend who stays in KL who bought them on the first day of sale."
The Temerloh group, all proudly attired in yellow-and-black tiger stripe jerseys, journeyed back home after the match ended.
"We will be back to support our Tigers whenever there is a big match. That we promise." said Nazrul.
S'pore fans praise both teams
IT was not just the locals who enjoyed the game last night.
Singaporean Ahmad Md Noor, 57, praised the Malayan Tigers and credited the local boys for their showmanship.
"It was a tough game and Malaysia deserve full credit but I think they got their tactics wrong. Malaysia played well and was attacking when they made a few changes," he said.
"We (Lion fans) were scared when Malaysia scored. It came at a time when they had momentum.
"With the crowd cheering I thought Malaysia would score again. After all, they just needed a 2-0 score to win the second round."
Ahmad, however, lamented security at the National Stadium must be improved as he claimed bottles were thrown at them.
Another Singapore fan Hardeep Singh, 44, also praised both teams.
"My prediction that our national team had the advantage to win this match came true," he said.
Joris Van Dekerkhof, 44, from the Netherlands is an ardent football fan and was rooting for the Malayan Tigers.
With his wife and two children, he was seen buying the national team's jersey.
"We were fascinated when we saw the first leg on television last Saturday and decided to come today.
"I support Malaysia all the way."