It is one of the successful teams in Southeast Asia along with Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam, winning bronze at the Asian Games in 1974 as well winning the ASEAN Football Championship in 2010 and other competitions while improving at the same time.
In the FIFA World Rankings, Malaysia's highest standing was in the first release of the figures, in August 1993, at 75th. Malaysia's main rival on the international stage are their geographical neighbours, Thailand, Indonesia and Singapore, and past matches between these three teams have produced much drama.
The Harimau Malaya nickname have been used since the former Malaya national football team. The nickname refer to the national animal of Malaysia, the Malayan tiger. Another source stated the name was believed to have been derived from a Malayan football player from Stulang Laut, Johor named Abdullah Mohd Don (Dollah Don) after he been called as "Harimau Malaya" by the founding father of Indonesia, Sukarno when managed to chasing his team lost of 0–3 against an Indonesian football club by scoring hat-trick in a match between Singaporean Malay Club and Peseja (Persija Jakarta) in 1953.
Although the Federation of Malaysia have been formed on 16 September 1963, the name are still being maintained for the national squad, thus there is some debate as most Malaysian in the East felt the "Malaya" term does not cover the whole country. Some supporters in the East felt offended when the media in the West Malaysia keep continuously using the term even some in the West said it is just a small matter and the naming issue had been politicised as the term "Malayan tiger" came from an endangered endemic tiger subspecies in Malay Peninsula rather than a geopolitical reason.
As part of rebranding of the national football team by FAM from 2 February 2016 onward, the nickname Harimau Malaya was officially changed to Harimau Malaysia in a bid to be more inclusive especially to the East Malaysian sides. The Harimau Malaysia nickname was also used to refer the former national player, Shaharuddin Abdullah. Since 1970s, he was known as "Harimau Malaysia" by the football fans due to his ability to score many goals. He once scored 15 goals for Malaysia in the Merdeka Cup tournament which stood as a record for years.