Safee's reputation up in smoke
When a picture of Malaysian star striker Safee Sali puffing on a cigarette at an eatery on Thursday night began making its rounds on social media, any sense of goodwill from the Malaysian camp towards Singapore went up in smoke.
Apparently frustrated at the controversial turn of events, Harimau Malaya coach Dollah Salleh declined to be interviewed by members of the Singapore media at the team's training session at the Bishan Stadium yesterday.
Malaysian players were also under strict orders not to speak to Singaporean journalists, as officials sought to close ranks in order to focus on tonight's must-win clash against Singapore at the National Stadium.
But a Malaysian journalist whom The New Paper spoke to quoted an unnamed player as saying: "No comment. We don't want this to become an issue that affects how we play tomorrow."
Earlier at yesterday's pre-match press conference, both Dollah and Safee also declined to elaborate on the issue.
While he confirmed that he was the player smoking in the picture, Safee said: "I don't want to comment more. I just want to focus on the game tomorrow."
The picture was uploaded by Singapore Environment Council chief executive officer Jose Raymond onto his Facebook page at 9.50am yesterday and he described the Malaysian players as "unprofessional".
Raymond went on to say that the photo was taken while the players were having supper at a coffeeshop near the M Hotel, where the team are staying.
In the post's caption, he said: "Here's one reason why I am confident our Lions will go through to the semi-finals of the AFF Suzuki Cup.
"At least have the decency to remove your national colours.
"Also serves as a reminder to all of us that the world is a very different place today and you are being watched all the time, regardless where we are, especially so when we are public figures."
Safee, the tournament's top scorer during Malaysia's victorious 2010 campaign, came under heavy criticism on Facebook from fans and media on the other side of the Causeway.
The post had over 12,000 likes and 300 shares as of last night, as fans voiced their dismay at the players' supposed misconduct.
Facebook user Khairul Izzat commented: "If they smoke and have stamina, are diligent in chasing the ball, it's all right.
"But they play terribly leading them to let in goals at the last minute."
But some fans, like MuhdHafiz MSeth, defended the players.
"They are human beings and not robots! They need rest, they need it," he said.
On the pitch, however, Dollah looks ready to ring in the changes in defence by replacing Afif Amiruddin and Fadhli Shas with Shukor Adan and Muslim Ahmad, because he feels the latter duo are more vocal and effective partners at communicating.
This would allow him to accommodate the in-form Safiq Rahim, who scored against Thailand, and Gary Robbat, who is back from suspension, in central midfield as Malaysia look to neutralise Singapore's midfield general Hariss Harun.