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Striker who thrust Malaysia into Olympics but didn't make football squad – Free Malaysia Today

PETALING JAYA: It’s 50 years since Malaysian football’s only appearance at the Olympics that left one of the country’s greatest strikers in tears.
Syed Ahmad Syed Abu Bakar, who had illuminated Malaysia’s display during the Asian qualifiers a year earlier, was excluded from the national team to the 1972 Munich Olympics.
Despite scoring four goals in the qualifiers against Japan (two), South Korea (one) and the Philippines (one), he never had the chance to mirror his exploits on the Olympics stage.
It has been suggested that Syed Ahmad missed out on the squad because of differences with then-national coach Jalil Che Din.
After the heartbreak of being left behind, Syed Ahmad did not take his place in the national team lightly and lit up a fearsome attack with Mokhtar Dahari and Isa Bakar.
Syed Ahmad, who died in Kangar on Wednesday at the age of 76 after suffering from prostate cancer, was one of the finest footballers in the 1960s and 70s.
The striker known for his hard graft, courage and scoring touch thrilled fans and intimidated the opposing defence with his shimmering and prodigious footwork.
Former internationals, striker M Karathu and defender Santokh Singh, described him as a forward of power, acceleration, audacity and vision.
“His every touch screamed class. He made goals from nothing,” said Santokh, who recalled playing for PKNS, Selangor, against Syed Ahmad’s Malaysian Prisons in a FAM Cup tie.
Karathu said a hush often descended when Syed Ahmad got the ball. “Anything could happen: an opponent left gaping; a shot of dangerous precision.”
“He was a menace in the penalty box with his dribbling skills and fired shots with outrageous precision,” said Karathu, who was also a former national coach.
Syed Ahmad and Karathu were teammates at the 1965 Pestabola Merdeka, 1966 Asian Games in Bangkok, South Vietnam Independence Cup in 1967 and Thailand King’s Cup the following year.
Karathu and Santokh said they felt sorry for Syed Ahmad at missing out on the Malaysian squad to the Munich Olympics.
Participation at the Munich Olympics remains Malaysia’s greatest achievement on the world stage. It justified the team’s status as an Asian powerhouse at that time.
The country qualified for the 1980 Moscow Olympics but stayed home after the US led a worldwide boycott of the Games following the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan.
In the qualifying round for the Munich Olympics at Seoul in 1971, Malaysia were superb, beating Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and the Philippines to join Burma (Myanmar) and Iran at the Games.
Syed Ahmad scored four goals, two of which came in Malaysia’s 3-0 win in their opening match against Japan, the 1968 Olympic bronze medallist. The third goal was netted by Looi Loon Teik.
Two days later, Syed Ahmad was the hero again as he struck in the 54th minute following a pass from Looi to embarrass South Korea 1-0.
He did not score in the 3-0 win against Taiwan but was key in all the goals. In the final match, he scored one goal in the 5-0 thumping of the Philippines.
His outstanding performance earned him the best player award in the tournament along with M Chandran (defence) and Wong Kam Fook (goalkeeper).
Looi also scored four goals in the tournament, one each against Japan and Taiwan and two past the Philippines.
Like Syed Ahmad, five other members of the team that won the ticket to Munich were dropped from the final 18. They were Dell Akbar Khan, Chan Kok Leong, Wong Hee Kok, V Kalimuthu and Yap Eng Kock.
Despite the setback, Syed Ahmad kept his spirits high and formed a lethal strikeforce with Mokhtar Dahari and Isa Bakar at the 1974 Asian Games in Tehran, Iran.
Malaysia scored 20 goals overall in Tehran and won bronze by beating North Korea 2-1, with Isa Bakar scoring both goals.
Johor-born Syed Ahmad scored two goals against Israel in the 8-3 defeat, the only loss in the tournament in which they beat South Korea 3-2, drew 1-1 with Japan and 0-0 with Iraq and mauled the Philippines 11-0.
The former Taiping prisons warden wore the national jersey from 1966 to 1974 and during that period, he won the Pestabola Merdeka in 1966, 1968 and 1974.
He scored in the Malaysia Cup finals in 1968 and 1969 with Penang and in 1974 with Perak but never lifted the coveted trophy.
He began his playing career in his home state before moving on to Penang (1965-1972), Perak (1972-1980) and Kedah (1980-1981), states that then produced legendary players.
Those who knew him say he saw football as a service to the nation and as a nation builder.
The takeaway from Syed Ahmad’s legacy for young players is what he once said: “We play for the country, for the team and not for ourselves.”
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