Exclusive: Dollah Salleh and Trevor Hartley - Our 5 keys to Malaysia gold
If I was coaching, I would tell the players: 'This is our home. We will not allow anyone to come here and take gold from us'
None of the present team was born back in 1989 when Singapore came to the Merdaka Stadium on Merdaka Day. Malaysia won 3-1 to send a nation of fans home wild with delight.
Times have changed. Back then, coach Trevor Hartley – who came to Malaysia just for the tournament after spending years in Singapore –was able to call up all of his players, regardless of age. It has since become an underage tournament.
Ahead of the huge final showdown, Hartley and one of the team's stars back then Dollah Salleh gave FourFourTwo the benefit of their experience on how to win gold at home.
1. Don't let the occasion get to you
Dollah remembers the build-up and the game well. “We knew that slowly the country was getting excited. We had beaten Thailand in the semi-final and as soon as the game finished, I started thinking about the final. I was thinking about how I would perform as an individual and how the team would perform.
“I didn't read the newspapers before the game, that is not a good idea although it is a little harder these days with the internet. You feel you are a big star but then you read the newspapers!
“But you have to try and rest as much as possible, relax but stay focused. Whatever happens, there will be pressure before the game and the players will feel it, you can't avoid that. But when the whistle goes then you will forget everything and just focus on the football. You need to be very disciplined.”
2. Adapt to the conditions
“There was a lot of rain,” Hartley recalled for the start of their final. “It was hard to play the game we wanted, but we had spent a lot of time together before the tournament and I knew we were able to be flexible.
“At half-time I took our wingers off as we could not run the ball down the wings, there was too much water around. We focused on moving the ball down the middle and I put a player behind the front two.
“I don't know if it was pretty but it was effective and we were dangerous. We kept calm and we knew the goals would come and they did.”
3. Embrace home advantage
Dollah will never forget the atmosphere inside that famous old stadium in the middle of Kuala Lumpur.
“That will always be inside my head. The national anthem and then the shouts of 'Malaysia, Malaysia' from the fans. It just gives you energy and it makes you more determined. I don't know what it did to Singapore but it must have had the opposite effect.
“If I was coaching now, I would tell the players: 'This is our home. We will not allow anyone to come here and take gold from us. You will never get this chance again. Don't let it slip.’”