Safiq targets Asian Cup after MVP award

Malaysian captain Safiq Rahim has rallied his international teammates to pick themselves up in 2016 and qualify for the 2019 Asian Cup, after picking up his second Most Valuable Player (MVP) award of the year…

The Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) central midfielder was the big winner at the Malaysian Football Awards on Friday night after taking home the MVP award and his third Best Midfielder honour.

Safiq’s contribution to the Southern Tigers’ successful season – winning the Malaysia Super League (MSL) and the AFC Cup – was appreciated by coaches, club captains and football writers, who all voted on the awards. Safiq was previously named the AFC Cup’s MVP after JDT became the first Southeast Asian side to win the second-tier continental tournament.

Captain of both his club and country, Safiq found the back of the net seven times in the MSL and four more times in the AFC Cup. He has built a tough partnership with Singapore skipper Hariss Harun at JDT and the latter’s defensive qualities allow Safiq to initiate attacks and roam freely.

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“I have many people to thank for this award … my wife, parents, in-laws, JDT patron Tunku Ismail Ibrahim, team officials and all my teammates. Without their support my performance would not be possible,” said Safiq.

“This is also a recognition of my efforts and will surely spur me to do even better next season. When I signed for JDT (back in 2013), I was not at my best and it took me some time to find my feet in the team. I want to keep growing as a player … playing until I’m in my mid-30s”

The 28-year-old has been among the best midfielders in the country since leading Malaysia to their first AFF Suzuki Cup trophy in 2010.

Things have not gone well on the international scene since, despite Malaysia reaching the 2014 AFF Suzuki Cup final, where they lost to Thailand. The Malaysians went nine months without a win in 2015 before defeating Timur Leste 1-0 in Dili in October.

Harimau Malaya also suffered a 10-0 thrashing against United Arab Emirates – their biggest loss in history – and twin 6-0 defeats to Palestine in the World Cup qualifiers.

Yet Safiq believes it isn't too late to qualify for the 2019 Asian Cup. The Malaysians will likely need to go through a playoff among the weakest nations in the continent to reach the Asian Cup qualifying group stages.

“I want to help our national team play in the Asian Cup … but I can’t do it myself. The qualification needs to be a team effort. Everyone on the pitch needs to fight very hard for it,” Safiq said.

“We are not in our best position now but I know we can be better. It will be a step-by-step process, but it’s my dream to get Malaysia to play in the Asian Cup.”