From Raja Bola to King James, 'Spiderman' to Safiq - The best Malaysia XI of all time

Malaysia has been participating in international competitions since before its independence from Britain in 1957, and over the decades several memorable players have emerged in the nation's footballing journey. Who are the eleven best players to have donned the hallowed yellow and black? 


Goalkeeper: R. Arumugam

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The custodian known as 'Spiderman' due to his long arms and superior aerial reach was the best in the position that is filled with memorable names. First called up to the national team when he was 20, he won five editions of the Merdeka tournament, the 1974 Asian Games bronze medal, the 1977 and 1979 SEA Games gold medal, and helped the Harimau Malaya qualify for the 1980 Moscow Olympics (which was eventually boycotted by Malaysia for political reasons). On top of this, Malaysia also qualified for the 1976 and 1980 editions of the Asian Cup. The man who was also a Selangor star sadly later lost his life at the age of only 35, in a tragic car accident.

R. Arumugam, Malaysia
R. Arumugam, Malaysia

R. Arumugam. Photo from New Straits Times

Defender: Soh Chin Ann

As Arumugam's contemporary, the Melaka-born centre back achieved much that his goalkeeper also attained. However, he had also reached the 1972 Olympics with the national team, where they lost to Morocco and West Germany, and defeated USA in the group stage.

Defender: Santokh Singh

Chin Ann's partnership in defence with Santokh laid the foundation for a strong Malaysia team in the 1970's, and the two central defenders also starred for Selangor.

Defender: Jamal Nasir

The Terengganu-born Pahang right back was Santokh and Chin Ann's team mate at the national team, and with them helped the team qualify for the 1980 Olympics.

Defender: Namat Abdullah

The Pulau Pinang defender only played for Malaysia until 1975, but helped the country reach the 1972 Olympics and won the Merdeka Tournament and the 1974 Asian Games bronze medal.

Midfielder: Shukor Salleh

Another Pulau Pinang-born, 1970's player, who capped his Malaysia career with the 1980 Olympic qualification.

Midfielder: Bakri Ibni

1980 was perhaps the final year of Malaysia's international success beyond the subcontinental stage, with the 1980 Olympic qualification sealed with a memorable 2-1 play-off win over South Korea at the Merdeka Stadium. Although he won many of the accolades with Malaysia in the 1970's, the Perlis midfielder's most memorable moment was surely of him scoring the opening goal in the encounter, in the 12th minute.

Midfielder: Safiq Rahim

The only player on the list to still be playing at the moment, the Selangor and then JDT midfielder skippered the national team to its most recent international senior title, the 2010 AFF Championship at the age of 23.

Safiq Rahim - Malaysia vs Vietnam 07122014
Safiq Rahim - Malaysia vs Vietnam 07122014

Safiq Rahim. Photo by Kamarul Akhir / Asiana

Forward: Mohtar Dahari

The Malaysian legend was a key player in the 1970's Malaysia team and achieved accolades with them as well as his beloved Selangor. Curiously enough, he however missed out both times the Harimau Malaya qualified for the Olympics. In 1972 he was deemed too young, while he would retire from the national team just before the 1980 qualifying campaign (although he would return briefly in 1985). He would pass away in 1991 at the age of just 37 due to motor neurone disease. 

Forward: James Wong

Although the Federation of Malaysia was formed in 1963, it would take a while before players from East Malaysia were called up to the national team, due to travelling constraints. Sabah-born James Wong was the first to receive a call-up in 1971, and proved what the Malaysian FA had missed out on. Just like Bakri, 'King' James most memorable contribution was scoring in the play-off tie against South Korea. His goal was the dramatic winner; netted five minutes from time thanks to a solo move and then assist by national team and Sabah striking partner Hassan Sani. Curiously, the man known for his attacking prowess had also played as a goalkeeper for the Malaysia youth team.

Forward: Abdul Ghani Minhat

While almost all of the players on the list are members of the 1970's national team, one man's prowess prior to this period, when the country was still known as Malaya, still stands out. Negeri Sembilan-born striker Abdul Ghani Minhat shone in the early days of organised football in the country as well as the country's independence, his goals for the fledgling nation in the Merdeka Tournament capturing the hearts of fans and its citizens alike. The Malaysian Raja Bola, or 'king of football' won the 1958, '59 and '60 Merdeka Tournament, before helping the country won the 1961 SEAP Games (precursor to SEA Games) gold, and the 1962 Asian Games bronze. He would retire from the national team in 1963 at the age of only 28.

Abdul Ghani Minhat
Abdul Ghani Minhat

Ghani Minhat (left)

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