Three top-class goalkeepers are battling for Malaysia's No.1 jersey and giving goalkeeper coach Kris Yong Wai Hwang a selection dilemma. Vijhay Vick discovers how Khairul Fahmi Che Mat was only given the nod the night before their last World Cup qualifier...
Khairul Fahmi Che Mat, Khairul Azhan Khalid and Izham Tazmizi Roslan are sure picks for the national team in Yong’s eye. The only problem is ... he is finding it tough to rank the trio – all of whom he believes are capable of holding on the No.1 jersey for Malaysia.
Yong, who is one of only two AFC Goalkeeper Instructor License holders in Malaysia, expects the trio to give him another tough decision to make on who to field between the sticks against Palestine and United Arab Emirates this month.
All eyes were on the goalkeeper position before the qualifier against Timor Leste last month after the Malaysians fielded Khairul Azhan and later brought on Izham as a substitute in a friendly against Laos five days earlier – dropping Khairul Fahmi altogether.
But it was Khairul Fahmi – a mainstay in the national team since 2010 – who was picked to fill in between the sticks.
“It was a tough decision to make. Apek's (Khairul Fahmi) performance was like a yo-yo before the match, Izham was doing well but lacks international experience and Yan (Khairul Azhan) was not playing much for Pahang then. Some even asked why we picked these three,” Kris told FourFourTwo.
“Until the last night before the match we could not decide who should play against Timor Leste. We had to make a lot of considerations. Among it were their performance in training, mental state, tactical understanding and influence on the team.
“All three are capable of delivering to be honest. They are about the same age (24-26 years old) and as they get older, they’ll have more experience under their belt and get better.
“Ong (Kim Swee) wants a goalkeeper, who not just protects the goal but can initiate attacks too. This is a transition period and Ong hopes he can encourage building attacks from the back four and the goalkeeper.”
Among the three, Izham Tarmizi has been under Yong’s watch since the AFC Under-19 qualifiers in 2009. On the other hand, Izham was head coach Ong Kim Swee’s trusted man in goal for Harimau Muda until he was left for Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) in 2014.
Yong was proud of Izham’s achievements as he dislodged regulars Norazlan Razali and Farizal Marlias for a regular starting place in the Malaysia Super League (MSL). Izham did not feature in the AFC Cup final win but played in the earlier rounds.
“I’m always proud of goalkeepers who come up the ranks and eventually make the national squad. Khairul Fahmi, though he wasn’t with me long time, and Izham are such players.”
Yong has not worked with Khairul Azhan for long periods but has been coaching Khairul Fahmi occasionally since the Champions Youth Cup in 2007. Yong was the goalkeeper coach when the Kelantan custodian played for the 2011 SEA Games winning squad and the 2011 Olympics qualifying team.
“For me, these three are the mainstays in the team for now. Izham and Apek have worked with me before and I know Yan can adapt after seeing him when we temporarily took charge of the national team last year. All of them have strong characters. Farizal Marlias and Norazlan Razali are running close too,” he said.
“But we are still searching for a complete goalkeeper and need to develop goalkeepers in the same mould as the country’s greats such as R. Arumugam and Abdul Rashid Hassan.
“I’m talking about excellent techniques, tactical awareness, strength – mental and physical – and character. Harimau Muda goalkeeper Farhan Abu Bakar has the physique … he needs to work harder on the rest.”
Yong has been in coaching since 1999, starting with Malacca until 2006 before moving into the Football Association of Malaysia’s (FAM) coaching set-up. There, he coached the Malaysian under-19, under-23 and Harimau Muda squad.
Today, he is seen as part of Ong’s trusted backroom staff as the duo’s friendship since their playing days for Malacca blossomed into a coaching tag team. Like Ong, Yong is unsure what the future holds as FAM have yet to name their new coach.
FAM are expected to announce their coaching line-up for the under-23 team by the end of the month, something FFT previously argued was a mistake as the senior team should be their utmost priority.