Marcelo: Malaysia ready for AFF Futsal Championship

With the 2014 AFF Futsal Championship edging closer to kick-off, we chat with Marcelo Serpa, Technical Director of Futsal at the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM), to find out about his thoughts on Malaysia being the host nation and the national team's preparation.

Malaysia will be going into the 2014 AFF Futsal Championship in fine form, after doing well in the 2014 OFC Futsal Championship. Has the preparation been sufficient?

The national team have been training since August 1, giving them an estimated time of eight weeks to prepare for the tournament. Including the OFC Championship, the team, which have its core members remained the same for the last two years, have also played about 10 games in recent months. So, I would say the preparation and amount of games played have been enough for us to expect a good performance from the team.

How will you consider the tournament to be a success?

From the perspective of the event organiser, I think that it will only be a success if there are a lot of spectators at the stadium, as this will show the public’s interest in the game of professional futsal and, of course, we want people to support the national team. Other than that, we hope that we can offer a good competition for not only participants, but also spectators. Both the FAM and AFF are working hard in all aspects to give our various stakeholders the best experience possible.

As a coach and the technical director, I will consider it as a success if our team reach the finals, which is on September 27, or, at the very least, we obtain the third place.

Marcelo instructing the young tigers

Who will be Malaysia’s key players?

I don’t like highlighting one or two individuals because I think that our team’s strength lies in teamwork. Futsal is a collective sport, where every player on the team is important if you want to have a great performance. Many players can be decisive based on the moment of play during the competition.

What do you think of Malaysia's group opponents such as Indonesia and Australia?

With all due respect to Timor Leste and Brunei [Malaysia’s other opponents in their group], the opponents to beat if we want to achieve the semi-finals will be Indonesia and Australia.

The Indonesians have a similar style to us, but I think in the last two years we have improved and changed our playing style. We also have better tactical conditions. We lost 5-4 the last time we played against them at the SEA Games, so I hope that we can play a better game this time around.

As for Australia, from the physical aspect, they have a stronger team compared to Malaysia.Not only do they have a high level of experience playing in international competitions, they are also mentally strong. In 2013 we played a good game against them in the OFC Championship Final, where we controlled the game well and created opportunities to score, but we unfortunately lost in the end. I think if we can perform similarly against them, we can win.

Tactical briefing before a game

As the host nation, do you think the players will be under huge pressure to do well?

I don’t think so. In fact, being the host country and having the crowd behind us, it will help create more energy and more incentives for our team to win. Plus, our players have already been exposed to the international arena and have played in packed stadiums, such as at the 2013 AFF Championship against Thailand in Bangkok, where we lost 2-0 but played very well in front of 4000 people.

Do you expect a huge crowd to come to the stadium and support the national team?

Due to the timing of the matches, there could be times that the stadium may look a little empty. However, I believe national pride will encourage people to come and support the team and be our sixth player.

Thailand have won all but one AFF Futsal Championships, and actually hammered Malaysia in the 2014 AFC Futsal Championship. Can the gap between both countries be closed?

There’s no doubt that Thailand are the number 1 in Southeast Asia and have won almost all competitions they have played in. Despite that, I think the gap has been getting smaller in the last two years. After the 2012 AFF Championship where we lost 12-1 to them, we played – and lost – five more games with them. Besides the recent AFC Championship match where we lost 7-1, our defeats were by smaller margins, so I think we are improving and have actually gained respect from them. However, we still have a long journey ahead, which includes a lot of hard work and practice for us to achieve their level.

The 2014 AFC Futsal Championship team

A lot more companies and NGOs are organising futsal competitions nowadays. Have these tournaments contributed to the talent pool at all?

I think that it does help and contribute towards the promotion of futsal in Malaysia because it gives both children and adults the opportunity to play and compete in futsal tournaments. In saying that, what we also need is a more structured form of competitions that can last more than a day or a weekend, such as the National League, IPT League and international competitions, if we want to ensure a proper development of professional players. 

The 2014 AFF Futsal Championship will be held from September 19-27 at the Stadium Melawati, Shah Alam. Entry is free.

(Photo Credit: www.aseanfootball.org, www.fam.org.my)