BETWEEN now and June next year, it is imperative that the Malaysian national football team place themselves among the top 100 nations in the FIFA rankings.
I must confess I have vested interest in this.
As of October, Malaysia are ranked 137th, so the idea is not so far-fetched.
Out of the six opponents lined-up for Kim Pan Gon’s disciples from next week until June, only Chinese Taipei, at No.152, are ranked lower than Malaysia.
So if Malaysia are to notch two victories – against Kyrgyzstan (16 November) and Chinese Taipei (21 November) – as they kick off their 2026 World Cup/2027 Asian Cup qualifying campaign, they will board the plane with confidence in taking on Jordan, Bahrain and South Korea in January's Asian Cup finals. Then Oman will await them when the qualifiers resume in March.
How the Ballon d'Or winner was chosen
For 11 years, I was among the 165 to 170 journalists worldwide tasked to pick the best player in the world.
It began when I received an e-mail from France Football magazine’s head of international football, Thierry Marchand, in March 2010. He asked me whether I was interested in becoming a jury for the inaugural edition of the FIFA Ballon d’Or. I said "oui" without batting an eyelid.
From 2010 to 2015, the Ballon d’Or was the one and only individual award for the best player in the world, following a marriage of convenience between France Football and FIFA.
For the 2010 edition, votes from coaches, captains and the media each accounted for 33 per cent of the final vote.
We were asked to select three players from a list of 23 players, and place them in descending order, so that the first player received five points, the second three points and the third one point.
There were only three Malaysians involved in the 2010 FIFA Ballon d'Or voting process: Datuk K. Rajagobal as the national coach, Norhafiz Zamani Misbah as the national skipper and yours truly.
Why I made my top Ballon d'Or pick in 2010
In picking the top three, these were my comments to France Football's redaction director, Denis Chaumier:
My vote goes to Dutch maestro, Wesley Sneijder. Over the course of the 2009/2010 season, the script centred on Internazionale Milan’s march to the treble of UEFA Champions’ League, the Scudetto and Coppa Italia, an unprecedented feat in Italian football. And helping Inter re-write history was Sneijder.
Sneijder’s fine passing range, mastery in set-piece situations and nose for goals became the core element behind Inter’s successful season.
The icing on the cake was Sneijder’s role in the Dutch team that came agonisingly close to lifting the FIFA World Cup for the first time. Sneijder’s five goals were testimony to the impact he had on the team.
In the final analysis, Sneijder demonstrated David Villa’s marksmanship, Xavi’s composure and passing range while providing the Dutch a talismanic influence similar to the impact Diego Forlan had on Uruguay in the World Cup. That is why Sneijder is my pick as the inaugural winner of FIFA Ballon d’Or.
Lionel Messi, the eventual winner, was not in my top three because he did not deliver in the tournaments that mattered most.
To me, the Ballon d'Or remains a reward for the greatest achiever of the year. On media votes alone, Sneijder would have walked away with the golden ball but sadly, he did not make the podium at all.
In contrast, Rajagobal picked Iniesta, Xavi and Mesut Ozil, while skipper Zamani voted for Xavi, Sneijder and Carles Puyol.
Memorable picks throughout the years
For the 2012 edition, I voted for Andres Iniesta, Iker Casillas and Andrea Pirlo, The following year, it was Cristiano Ronaldo, Franck Ribery and Messi in that order.
Twice I voted for a defender as the best player, naming Philipp Lahm in 2014 and Virgil van Dijk in 2019.
In early 2022, France Football editor-in-chief Pascal Ferre sent all the jury an e-mail, politely dropping me and 60 fellow journalists from the exclusive club. He claimed that the magazine had decided to strengthen the legitimacy of the jury by reducing the voting members to 100 and 50 “qualified” members for the men’s and women’s Ballon d’Or respectively, on the basis of the FIFA ranking of the represented nations.
I missed out voting for my personal favourite Karim Benzema, who deservedly took home the 2022 award.
But I consoled myself with the fact that I was still given the opportunity to vote for the Dream Team of All-Time, when France Football decided to produce an all-time best XI in place of the cancelled 2020 edition following the COVID-19 pandemic.
My all-time best reads: Gianluigi Buffon in goal; Lilian Thuram, Franz Beckenbauer, Marcel Desailly and Paolo Maldini forming the back four; in midfield, Pirlo is flanked by Diego Maradona and Pele. The attacking triumvirate consist of Messi on the right, Ronaldo of Brazil as the No.9 and Portugal's Ronaldo on the left wing.
Now my focus is aimed at Malaysia’s prospects. At the rate they are going and luck permitting, who knows, I might be getting another e-mail from France Football next year.
Rizal Hashim is an award-winning journalist from Malaysia who served as Ballon d’Or jury from 2010 to 2021.
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