Midfielder Zulfahmi Arifin is enjoying the chance to play in the centre of the LionsXII defence, after being thrown into the deep end and impressing against Felda United on the weekend.
With key defender Afiq Yunos down with gout, LionsXII coach Fandi Ahmad turned to Zulfahmi to partner Madhu Mohana in front of goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud during the 0-0 draw.
The 24-year-old acquitted himself well in the unfamiliar centre-back role, putting in a number of strong challenges to thwart the much-heralded Felda strikeforce of Ndumba Makeche and Edward Junior Wilson.
Speaking to FourFourTwo after the game, Zulfahmi seemed satisfied with his display against the Malaysian Super League (MSL) leaders.
“I was only told two days before the game that I would be playing at centre back,” he said.
“I was surprised because I only played there during the pre-season friendlies and it was only for one or two games.
“I think I did quite okay, considering that I’m an attack-minded player.
“The Felda forwards are big and strong, especially Makeche who gave me a hard time, but I tried my best to keep in front of them at all times and not let them turn me.”
Zulfahmi revealed it took him some time to adapt to his new responsibilities in his first competitive game at centre back, although he enjoyed the luxury of space given to him as compared to playing in the middle of the park.
“It wasn't as easy at first because I can’t attack like how I used to,” he said.
“All I thought about was defending. Because I was the last line of defence, I couldn’t take it easy when it comes to one-on-one situations against the opponents.
“But at least you get time to rest and breathe when you’re playing there.
“Playing in midfield is something much more tiring, where you need to think more and sometimes you don’t even have the time to do so.”
While admitting that he still needs to improve on his heading, Zulfahmi believes he can excel as a centre-back with his 1.77m physique.
“I think I’ll do fine,” he said.
“(Fitness coach) Sasha (Aleksandar Bozenko) and (goalkeeper coach) Bee Seng have been telling him that (Fabio) Cannavaro is smaller than me.”
With backline options looking thin since Safuwan Baharudin left for his three-month loan spell at Melbourne City, Zulfahmi is hoping for more opportunities in his new-found position.
“I still love attacking and I don’t see myself as a defender yet,” he said.
“But for the team I’m willing to play where Abang (Fandi) wants me to play.
“Playing in defence is also good in the sense that it can help me to improve on how I do my defensive duties. Usually I just want to attack and I don’t really like defending.”
The LionsXII will host Terengganu FA this Saturday in their next MSL encounter.
Photo: Weixiang Lim/FourFourTwocomments