No A-League debut for Safuwan, but he's happy to be part of Melbourne's matchday squad

No A-League debut for Safuwan, but he's happy to be part of Melbourne's matchday squad
TARGET: Safuwan (centre) has vowed to train hard and win a place in Melbourne CIty's starting line-up for the derby against Melbourne Victory on Saturday

He did not take to the pitch, but Safuwan Baharudin's first matchday experience since joining Australian side Melbourne City was still an eye-opener.

Last Thursday, the 23-year-old Lions defender signed a loan deal with the A-League club until at least the end of the season, and was included by Dutch coach John van't Schip in City's matchday squad of 16 as they took on Western Sydney Wanderers at their AAMI Park home stadium yesterday.

City won 2-1, thanks to goals from Jacob Melling and Aaron Mooy, after Wanderers' Yojiro Takahagi had given the A-League's bottom side a shock lead.

Safuwan nervously waited for his chance on the bench as he tried his best to keep his body warm under cool conditions measuring 17 deg C, but the call from van't Schip never came.

However, the centre back still relished the experience.

"It was really good to be part of the team today," Safuwan told The New Paper after the match.

"Having to watch the game from the bench is not something I'm very used to. Plus, it was really cold.

"But it's a totally different experience for me, from the fans to the level of football."

Safuwan has another reason to smile - his wife, Alia Qistina, joined him in Melbourne on Saturday.

He has promised to train hard this week and hopefully, earn a starting place in City's next game - a derby against Melbourne Victory on Saturday.

Victory, third in the 10-team A-League on 29 points, are four points behind leaders Perth Glory.

After yesterday's victory, City are sixth on 19 points.

Should they maintain the position until the end of the season, they will make the A-League play-offs, which could also mean an extension to Safuwan's stay Down Under.

The 1.82m-tall former Singapore Sports School student has already made his intention clear that he hopes to impress van't Schip enough to land a long-term deal.

He says the City faithful are another reason to stay.

Attendance has improved from a season average of 8,312 in the 2010-2011 season to around 13,000 this year, and 43,729 fans attended the first Melbourne derby of the season, on Oct 25.

"The environment in and around the stadium on matchday is different from what I'm used to," he said.

"I saw some of the fans after the game, signed a few shirts, shook hands with them and took some pictures.

"I think I can adapt to the football here, and I'll just work hard and wait for my chance."

Safuwan is City's fifth and final foreign signing, joining former Chelsea star Damien Duff, ex-West Brom midfielder Robert Koren, Dutch defender Rob Wielaert and Argentine midfielder Jonatan Germano.

He had spent 10 days with Melbourne on their mid-season training camp in Abu Dhabi earlier this month, featuring in two friendly matches against Al-Jazira of the United Arab Emirates and Ukranian side Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk.

Safuwan is the first Singaporean footballer since V Sundramoorthy and Fandi Ahmad to ply his trade at a significantly higher level abroad, and also the first to join the A-League.

Sundram played for Swiss team Basel in 1988 while Fandi turned out for Dutch side FC Groningen from 1983 to 1985.

msazali@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on February 1, 2015.
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