Just this week, Johor Darul Ta’zim Football Club defeated Japanese giants Kashima Antlers in the AFC Champions League.
The win is historic because it is the first time a Malaysian football team had been able to secure victory over Kashima Antlers.
Kashima Antlers are indeed no pushovers as they are one of the most successful football clubs in Japanese history, winning the J-League eight times, the Emperor’s Cup five times, and the J-League Cup and the Japanese Super Cup six times each.
On the international level, Kashima Antlers are also feared among football clubs as they had become runners up of the coveted FIFA Club World Cup in 2016 and became champions of the AFC Champions League last year and the A3 Champions Cup in 2003.
That said, it was no surprise than when Sarawak FA qualified for the Asian Cup Winners (now named AFC Champions League) in 1999, Sarawak were already at a disadvantage.
Kashima Antlers qualified for the competition as 1998 league winners of the J-League, and they showed their ability against Sarawak who were representing Malaysia as champions of the 2998 Liga Premier.
The match which was played at the brand-new Stadium Sarawak saw Sarawak feature an all local side after the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) banned any non-Malaysian players in the league.
This had forced Sarawak to go all Malaysian against a side that had Japanese World Cup players, and was coached by former Brazilian player, Zico. To make matters worse, Sarawak was reported to have not been able to prepare for the match properly as planed friendly matches against Singaporean sides were canceled.
Despite the odds, the Crocs showed they were no pushovers in the first leg of the match by going on the offensive against the Japanese football club.
It however wasn’t enough as Sarawak were defeated by the mighty Antlers with 4-2 being the final score. Nazri Yunus and Safri Amit scored the two goals for Sarawak.
In the second leg, the story was however much different.
Despite preparing intensively for the match, Sarawak had not made any preparations to play in chilling weather at Stadium J-Village.
According to the then Sarawak head coach Abdul Jalil Ramli, the football team had to play with short sleeves and multiple layers of clothing at chilling temperatures of 3 degree Celsius.
Jalil said that despite giving their all, conditions made it impossible for his side to play their usual football and hence the unexpected results.
Kashima Antlers ended the match by scoring a whopping 10 goals, with Sarawak scoring none, advancing the Antlers into the next stage of the competition.
The defeat is by far the worst in Sarawak’s football history and had never been repeated by Sarawak ever since.
This article is brought to us by our Sports Writers Club resident columnist – Cyril Dason.