Hassan up for a fight with Izwan

Lions XII goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud expects a hostile environment at Bukit Jalil stadium as they face Kelantan in the Malaysian FA Cup final on Saturday.

Izwan Mahbud has had an all-star season with the LionsXII in the Malaysian Super League (MSL) this season.

Acrobatic saves and crucial blocks have been par for the course for the 24-year-old since the campaign kicked off in February.

He was a key figure as Fandi Ahmad's side became the first foreign team to lift the Malaysian FA Cup, producing a Man-of-the-Match performance in the 3-1 win over Kelantan in the final last Saturday at the Bukit Jalil Stadium.

All of a sudden, Singapore No. 1 Hassan Sunny has a big rival challenging him.

The 31-year-old is himself having a good season with his new club Army United in the Thai Premier League.

Speaking to The New Paper yesterday, Hassan said: "It's always good to see a colleague doing well. You wouldn't want to wish the

worst for someone, and I'm glad Izwan's consistently making a name for himself as one of the top goalkeepers in the region. I saw him play in the FA Cup final, and the whole time I couldn't believe my eyes. He was amazing.

"So if the coach selects him instead of me, it's good for the team. Coaches always pick players who are on form, and Izwan certainly is.

"But, on and off the pitch, Izwan and I are good friends. This kind of competition is healthy, and it makes the both of us better players."

The 21-strong Singapore squad gathered for the first time at the Geylang Field yesterday in preparation for their World Cup qualifiers next month.

Both Hassan and Izwan may be locked in battle for the No. 1 jersey, but they were often seen encouraging each other and sharing jokes during drills with goalkeeping coach Lee Bee Seng.

Izwan, who recognises Hassan's status as the preferred choice for national coach Bernd Stange, said: "Hassan is more experienced than I am, and I have much to learn from him. Right now, he's still No. 1 but, if the opportunity arises, I'll grab it with both hands."

Hassan is no stranger to competition. Over the last decade, he's battled with Lionel Lewis and Izwan to be the team's last line of defence.

At Army, he is up against three other goalkeepers - Thais Tak Penphone, Kosin Hembut and Pairote Eiam-mak. In a testament of his ability, Hassan almost immediately established himself as the main man, with a three-week lay-off due to a shoulder injury being the only time he was left out of the team.

"Just like over here with Izwan and Zaiful (Nizam), I have competition in Thailand as well. But as always, it's good competition," said Hassan.

"When you have other players pushing you, threatening to take your place, that's when you feel motivated."

This article was first published on May 28, 2015.
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