The LIONSXII theme song

Hafiz happy to play utility man

Hafiz happy to play utility man

The 23-year-old is relishing the opportunity to play in several positions

By Kenneth Tan

SINGAPORE, 31 January 2014: He is primarily deployed on the left wing in this LionsXII team.

However, as the 2014 season rolls on, Hafiz Sujad is beginning to show his capability to play in different positions.

After Khairul Amri was brought off in the season-opener against Pahang FA, he was pushed upwards to support Sufian Anuar in attack for the last 30 minutes. In the last game against Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT), he slotted in at left-back after Shakir Hamzah was forced off with an injury.

It was not an easy night having to contain the likes of Amri Yahyah and Mahali Jasuli. However, the 23-year-old put in a good shift, and even went forward to score the equaliser.

One growing attribute of this LionsXII team is the players’ versatility, as shown also in vice-captain Safuwan Baharudin who had been deployed both in midfield and attack whenever needed. According to Hafiz, this has been something which new coach Fandi Ahmad has been emphasizing on since pre-season.
“During our tour to Yogyakarta, he did mention to us that he prefer players to play in more than one position,” he told the official LionsXII website before Thursday’s training session.

“We have a long hard season ahead and this can only benefit the team. There’s a few players injured while some of us will get knocks here and there. Thus it’s important to ensure that every position is covered.”

Having played at left-back for previous club Courts Young Lions, Hafiz has no qualms filling into that role although he admitted it was a surprise to be handed the advanced role in that first game. “I’ve been playing in defence in previous seasons although I normally play in midfield,” shared the Nanyang Polytechnic graduate.

“For the game against Pahang, I think coach Fandi wanted me to attack more. Given that I’m comfortable playing in the middle and like to take shots, he put me there so that I get more opportunities to score. In fact the only time I played as a striker was in my polytechnic days!”

Being a jack-of-all-trades risks the possibility of being a master of none, but being the consummate professional, he is keen to reiterate that his mantra is to give his ‘110%’ regardless of which position he plays.

It was that excellence in attitude which aided him through a tough 90 minutes at Larkin on Tuesday night. Going down to two goals at half time, the LionsXII staged a miraculous fightback by hitting two goals in three second-half minutes. In the heat of the game, Hafiz kept Coach Fandi’s instructions etched in his mind as he pushed forward and found himself the beneficiary after opposition keeper Norazlan Razali spilled Safuwan’s close-range shot.

“Coach always emphasizes on getting numbers into the box,” he revealed.

“For that goal, we had around four to five of us in the box and I was at the right place at the right time to tap it in. This goes to show that whatever he has told us is true, the ball can go anywhere inside the box.”

The past two games has shown the resilience in this current LionsXII team – having pushed all the way till the 95th minute to get the winner against Selangor FA, before that rousing comeback against JDT. This is a key attribute which Hafiz feels that his side should always be displaying.

“If you compare skills and technique, obviously the other Malaysian sides are better,” he assessed. “For us, we can only look to working even harder to make up the difference.”

The past few matches would have taken a toll on these young boys. Having played four games in 11 days against some tough opposition, their hectic schedule will not end just yet. They are scheduled to take on Pahang FA in the second round of the FA Cup tomorrow night, while the majority of the boys will also be involved in the national team’s 2015 AFC Asian Cup qualifier against Jordan on the evening on this coming Tuesday. With games coming thick and fast, Hafiz is keen to give credit to the medical team who has been working hard behind the scenes.

“It’s really tough having to play so many matches in a short time,” he admitted.

“We need to recover fast and get physically ready for the next game. It’s good that after matches, we get to enjoy things like recovery massages and ice bathes prepared by Banzi (Gurnaya Singh), my sister (Nurhafizah Sujad) and Nasruldin (Baharudin).”

Having absorbed the lessons learnt from that narrow defeat on the opening day, the midfielder is itching for the chance to exact revenge – albeit in a different competition.

“I felt that the goal we conceded that day was largely due to our own mistakes,” he said bluntly.

“We also did create chances but failed to score from them. We should always learn from what happened. For this game, we need to keep it tight and simple at the back; in the attacking third, we really need to take our chances.”

Despite the game being played on the second day of Chinese New Year, Hafiz hopes that the fans can turn up in full force to urge them to victory within regulation time.

“This game is going to be different given that it’s a Cup tie,” he remarked. “We definitely want to settle the game within 90 minutes. Hopefully the fans can come out to support us and we’re looking forward to give a good show.”

The FA Cup tie game against Pahang FA will kick-off at 7.45pm tomorrow night at Jalan Besar Stadium. Tickets for the game are still available via TicketBooth.

Do come down and support the boys in their quest to reach the last eight of the competition!