The Match That Launched A Million Tweets
Kuala Lumpur was buzzing with excitement on December 26, 2010 when Malaysia faced Indonesia for the first leg of the AFF Suzuki Cup final. The traditional political rivalry between the two nations — spanning centuries of international relations, not least of which was a near-war “Confrontation” in the 1960s — made this meeting an electric affair as the populations of both countries cheered their national teams on. It was something practically unheard of in Malaysia, too, as the embarrassing misfortunes of the Malaysian football since the 1980s had culminated in public apathy for the national team.
But what appeared to be just a third-rate championship among third-rate national teams (of the eight national teams that participated, Thailand had the highest FIFA ranking at 106th in the world… out of 203) set passions regionally when the first leg of the final saw Malaysia decisively win 3-0 against an Indonesian squad that had trumped them 5-1 in the group stage. The match became a national event on both sides, Bukit Jalil Stadium packed to the brim with 100,000 people spectating — of which 15% were Indonesian away fans — and millions of others watching on television.
The Indonesian team called an extraordinary time-out in the opening minutes of the second half to complain to match officials about laser pointers being used by the Malaysian fans towards the Indonsian players — their goalkeeper, Markus Harison, especially — and it seemed almost as if they might have walked out game unfinished, but after a broadcasted warning to the crowd the match resumed.
(Full disclosure: your correspondent was watching the match at Bukit Jalil Stadium when the alleged incidents occurred, and it’s true that laser beams were aimed at the Indonesian goalkeeper in the first half.)
But the war had only begun on Twitter, however. Within minutes Indonesian users on Twitter expressed their outrage and tweeted en masse using the hashtag #malaysiacheatlaser, quickly rising up the Twitter trending topics — which list the most discussed keywords at any given time — to reach number one.
It didn’t help that Malaysia scored a salvo of three goals after the time-out, winning the match, as the cyber conflict escalated after the match. Indonesians amassed more hashtags up the trending topics, with #HateMalaysia being one of them. Passions running high led to random tweeted attacks from both sides. Even your correspondent got a scathing, if badly-composed, reply. The angry, accusatory tone of the thousands of tweets didn’t throw Malaysians off; prominent Malaysian government politician Khairy Jamaluddin (@khairykj) snarkily tweeted back, “None of the 3 goals had anything to do with #malaysiacheatlaser. It had to do with #crapindonesiandefending.”
But while Malaysia won the first leg and came into the second with a three goal lead, all parties were well aware that anything was possible and Indonesia might just be able to surprise their visitors with an even bigger scoreline given their home advantage. Gelora Bung Karno Stadium was similarly packed — the 95,000-seater was sold out for the second leg — and Twitter users on both sides were prepared for a second skirmish. Skirmish might be the most appropriate word for it, too; rumors rose of a concerted attempt by Indonesian hackers against Malaysian websites, most notably the website for Radio Televisyen Malaysia (RTM), the national television station that broadcasted the football matches.
And on December 29, the day of the second leg, Indonesians dominated the trending topics again, with at least three of the ten global most discussed topics being Indonesia-related. The number one topic, #garudafightsback, is a reference to the Indonesian team’s nickname “Garuda”, after a legendary bird. #LoveIndonesia and #TimNas — short of “Tim Nasional Sepakbola Indonesia” or “Indonesian national football team” — were the others. Malaysian Twitter users remarked with amusement that their accumulated tweeting could not make the trending topics.
The reason? Indonesia, with a population of 229 million — the world’s fourth most populous — has an incredibly huge online presence, especially on Twitter. A Sysomos report found that Indonesian tweets make up 2.34% of all tweets worldwide, beaten only by the US, UK, Brazil, Canada and Australia. In contrast, Malaysia makes up only 0.47% of global tweets.
It’s clear that Indonesia is evidently a new juggernaut on the cyberscene.
As for the match: a determined Indonesia scratched together a 2-1 victory that wasn’t enough to let them win the trophy (as the aggregate sat at 4-2 for Malaysia) but earned the respect of both nations’ supporters. The hatemongering of Sunday was eclipsed by mutually admiring fans and a cross-border trending topic was “Khairul Fahmi”, the Malaysian goalkeeper who played excellently, making a magnificent penalty save in the process.
Malaysia brought home the AFF Suzuki Cup for the first time, making them Southeast Asian football champions, a proud achievement for a team bogged down by years of failure. It was such a celebratory moment for the country that Prime Minister Najib Razak quickly declared a public holiday to commemorate the victory.
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TAGS: aff suzuki cup • garuda • malaysia national football team • malaysia vs indonesia • timnas
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