Lion-hearted Izzdin's vital role

Lion-hearted Izzdin's vital role
Izzdin Shafiq (No. 13) and fellow midfielder and LionsXII captain Isa Halim (left) during training yesterday at Geylang. Izzdin’s form this season has restricted Isa’s role to that of a substitute for the side.

When the final whistle blows on Saturday at Bukit Jalil Stadium, one man - midfielder Izzdin Shafiq - may finally be feted by fans, especially if he manages to help the LionsXII defeat Kelantan in the Malaysia FA Cup final.

While striker Khairul Amri and goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud have garnered the most attention going into the weekend showdown because of their match-winning displays, the unsung hero behind the team's dream run has beenIzzdin.

He is the only player to have figured in each of the 16 matches that the LionsXII have played in all competitions this season and, to many, the 24-year-old has been the most consistent player of the season thus far.

Although he was a part of the 2013 Malaysian Super League-winning team, Izzdin made only 11 appearances all season, with playing time limited, largely due to national service commitments. "In 2013, I didn't feel like I really contributed that much so, of course, if we do win on Saturday, it would be the biggest moment in my career so far," said Izzdin, who won a bronze medal at the 2013 SEA Games tournament in Myanmar.

"With every game that I have played this season, I feel that I have got better.

"I am more experienced this year and I believe that the improved performances have been down to the fact that I have been working very hard in training, and in the matches I just give my all."

A smooth operator in midfield, Izzdin's box-to-box runs have not gone entirely unnoticed.

Rafi Ali, who was part of the Singapore national football team who won the 1998 Tiger Cup, the forerunner to the current AFF Suzuki Cup, sang the praises of the combative midfielder.

"Izzdin has been a revelation this season in centre midfield," said Rafi. "He does everything that a coach would want of his midfielder.

"He tracks back, tackles well and has a very good passing range."

The FA Cup final will be Izzdin's second Cup final appearance in a year but this time he will be hoping to be on the winning side.

Last November, he started for Home United when they were toppled 1-3 by Balestier Khalsa in the Singapore Cup final.

"Last year was a big disappointment to lose in the final but, overall, I enjoyed my time at Home (United) because I got a lot of playing time.

"Playing in the S-League gave me more confidence and I think it is starting to show this season with the LionsXII."

In 2010, Izzdin was also an integral part of a Young Lions team who were playing in the S-League, partnering a certain Hariss Harun in midfield.

While Hariss has gone on to become an established fixture in the Singapore national team, Izzdin is yet to earn his first call-up.

But he is committed to keeping his head down as he continues toiling to get the nod to don national colours.

"I just have to keep working hard to maintain my current form and if I am good enough, the coaches will notice me," he said.

One man who cannot be ignored come Saturday will be Kelantan captain Mohd Badhri Radzi.

Popularly referred to as Piya, the 32-year-old is widely regarded as one of the best midfielders in Malaysia and Izzdin will be handed the task of keeping him in check.

"Kelantan have very good players all over the field so we cannot give special attention to (just) one player," he warned.

This article was first published on May 21, 2015.
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