Touted as the best player in the Malaysia Under-23 football team, Nazmi Faiz Mansor has been sent packing from the South-east Asia (SEA) Games.
Ong Kim Swee's side suffered a double blow yesterday, after news that the talented 20-year-old midfielder had been banned for six games for spitting was quickly followed by a 5-1 drubbing by Vietnam.
Last Saturday, Nazmi was shown a red card for spitting at Filipe Oliveira in Malaysia's 1-0 win over East Timor in their opening Group B match at Bishan Stadium.
Yesterday, the Asian Football Confederation disciplinary committee slapped a six-game ban on Nazmi, ending his SEA Games campaign.
Malaysia have another three group matches to play and another two should they qualify for the knockout rounds.
Head coach Ong, who fielded a 17-year-old Nazmi in the 2011 SEA Games final when Malaysia emerged with the gold medal, confirmed that the player's Games participation is over.
"I'm not sure what the rules are and how far-reaching (the ban) is, but a six-game ban is a six-game ban," said Ong.
"There's nothing we can do about it. It's a punishment and we just have to take it."
Malaysia's assistant team manager, Datuk Halim Mu'azzam Ayob, confirmed that Nazmi will be sent back to Kuala Lumpur, possibly as early as today.
Nazmi's reaction was unapologetic, to say the least.
On his Instagram account, he posted a photo of a cartoon of him spitting, with the hashtag "#haktuih".
The image was captioned: "Six games banned! I won't give up pal! I'll bounce back soon. See you in the next 2 years SEA Games! All the best to all my great teammates and official (sic)!"
A product of the Bukit Jalil Sports School, Nazmi made regional headlines when he signed a three-year contract with top-tier Portuguese side Beira Mar in Nov 2012.
MOVE WENT SOUR
But the move went sour and he returned home after just six months, signing for PKNS, before joining Malaysian Super League giants Selangor FA last season.
Malaysian chef de mission Datuk Seri Norza Zakaria will not be one of those worrying over Nazmi's absence from the team as Ong attempts to work a miracle now and drag his side into the semi-finals.
On Monday, Norza had told Malaysian media that the player should not be allowed to compete at the rest of the Games, as a lesson to the country's other athletes to be more disciplined while representing the country at international tournaments.
Yesterday, speaking on the sidelines at the welcome ceremony for the Malaysian contingent at the Singapore Sports Hub, Norza said: "To me, we should have sent him straight back, because the behaviour he showed was unacceptable.
"This is a goodwill Games, where we have to exercise the highest level of sportsmanship."
Norza, who is the deputy president of the Badminton Association of Malaysia, treasurer of the Football Association of Malaysia and also the chairman of board of directors at Malaysia's National Sports Institute, says he is looking forward to a good showing from the 655-strong contingent.
Declining to give a gold-medal target - 45 of Malaysia's 158 medals at the Myanmar Games in 2013 were gold - Norza only hoped the team's total tally would surpass 180.
He added that, with the next SEA Games in 2017 being held in Kuala Lumpur, the Singapore Games would be a good example to follow.
"Singapore will set a high standard for us to emulate," said Norza.
"This is the first 'digital Games', the first Games to introduce blood tests, the first Games to provide four- and five-star accommodation for the athletes.
"All in all, it will be a good experience for us to learn from and try to improve on when we become hosts in 2017."
This article was first published on June 3, 2015.
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