Zaiful earns maiden senior international call-up

Balestier Khalsa goalkeeper Zaiful Nizam has been called up to the Singapore national team ahead of friendly matches against Bangladesh and Brunei.

The news was revealed on Monday afternoon after S.League club Balestier posted a congratulatory message on their official Facebook page.

The 27-year-old has been in excellent form for the Tigers over the past couple of years, with his superb reflexes and leadership qualities pivotal in helping them secure 2013 League Cup and 2014 Singapore Cup triumphs.

He let in just 34 goals in 27 games, which helped his side become the third-best defensive team in the league last year.

Zaiful, who was the 2004 Lion City Cup winning goalkeeper, was last on the international radar in 2007 when he was called up for the Singapore Under-23s.

Eight years is a long time but Zaiful believes it has been worth the wait.

“I got a call from the team manager of the national team, Farehan (Hussein), earlier this morning and he told me about this piece of good news,” he told FourFourTwo.

“Of course I’m so happy to get the chance to be part of the national team.

“It’s been a long wait and I’ve been waiting for years for this moment, but (Balestier) coach Marko (Kraljevic) has been telling me that there is no shortcut to achieving your dreams and a better future.

“We must keep on working hard till we get what we want.”

Zaiful will be competing with Hassan Sunny and Izwan Mahbud, two experienced international goalkeepers with 77 caps between them, but he is unfazed by the challenge of going up against them.

“Hassan and Izwan have experience in the senior team for many years and I respect them for that,” he said.

“I will do my best to learn more from them, but at the same time, I’ll show that in training to impress coach (Bernd Stange) that I also have the qualities to be the future No.1.”

Standing at just 1.74m, Zaiful knows there are bound to be those who say he is not tall enough to survive at the highest level but he is keen to prove them wrong.

“I believe height does not matter that much,” he said.

“It depends on your guts and how hard you work for every match – that’s more important.

“I hope with my call-up, the shorter goalkeepers will be inspired and not give up on their dreams.”

The Singapore national team will play two friendlies – away in Dhaka against Bangladesh on Saturday, 30 May before hosting Brunei on Saturday, 6 June at Jurong West Stadium.

They will then kick off the joint 2018 FIFA World Cup and AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers away in Phnom Penh against Cambodia on Thursday, 11 June, before facing Japan in Saitama on Tuesday, 16 June.

Photo: Football Association of Singapore