Suzuki Cup: Safuwan, not simply a defender

Suzuki Cup: Safuwan, not simply a defender
Friendly football match between Singapore and Cambodia ahead of the AFF Suzuki Cup at Yishun Stadium on 17 Nov 2014.

He's fit enough and intelligent enough.

So, when the opportunity arises, don't be surprised to see Lions defender Safuwan Baharudin surge up the field in support of his attack at this month's AFF Suzuki Cup.

National coach Bernd Stange has given the gifted 23-year-old centre back the freedom to roam forward, not unlike an old-school libero, when he spots gaps in front of him.

Speaking to The New Paper after the 4-2 friendly win over Cambodia at Yishun Stadium last night, the 66-year-old German said: "There are attacking-minded coaches, and there are defensive-minded coaches. I'm more attacking-minded.

"I like it when my players go on unexpected runs and surprise the opposition.

"Safuwan is young, he is fast, and he can play that role.

"We have two defensive midfielders who can cover him when he goes up, especially considering most teams play only one striker. And he likes to play that way."

Safuwan clearly enjoyed his freedom in last night's friendly, which also served as Singapore's final tune-up match before they take on Thailand in their Suzuki Cup opener at the National Stadium on Sunday.

Twice in the opening 20 minutes, he got himself into good positions in open play.

After just six minutes, he popped up unmarked on the edge of the box to force goalkeeper Sou Yati into a good save.

Later, he almost got on the end of Shahfiq Ghani's cross, only for a defender to clear the ball in the nick of time.

Safuwan did get on the scoresheet when he scuffed home a shot in the 38th minute after Cambodia failed to clear their lines.

He also showcased his stamina and athleticism late in the first half when he headed a Cambodia corner clear, and immediately sped off on a lung-bursting run to support a counter-attack which unfortunately led to nothing.

And, just past the hour mark, the LionsXII man again ghosted into a good position in the final third, but his attempted one-two with Sahil Suhaimi did not come through, with the striker opting to shoot directly at Yati.

TIMING

When asked about his role, Safuwan told TNP: "I definitely enjoy it, but I must make sure I can go forward only when the time is right.

"I can't go up all the time. After all, my first duty is to defend. I'm still working on (the balance)."

He added that last night's win, coupled with a 2-0 triumph over Laos last Friday, puts the team in good stead as they prepare to defend the ASEAN crown they won two years ago.

"Okay, 4-2 is not exactly a remarkable scoreline against Cambodia, but it's always good," he said.

"I haven't scored for some time, so it was nice to get a goal today at just the right time, just before the Suzuki Cup.

"We have to work on the two goals we conceded, because they were soft.

"It was frustrating, having to play on a muddy pitch, work so hard to score only to concede. But we got the win and that's what matters."


This article was first published on Nov 18, 2014.
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