Interviews

Ifwat Akmal, one-on-one: "I can only get better!"

Kedah custodian Ifwat Akmal Chek Kassim saw his stock rise after breaking into the Red Eagles' starting line-up in 2016. Fast-forward a year, he was part of the Malaysia Under-22 squad that won silver at the SEA Games and made the Harimau Malaya squad for the first time in October. He tells FourFourTwo that the best is yet to come.

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Behind Farhan Abu Bakar in the pecking order at Kedah at the start of the 2016 Malaysia Super League (MSL) campaign, Ifwat was anything but a household name.

But Farhan's decline in form and Ifwat’s promising showing in the training for the Kedah Under-21s led to Tan Cheng Hoe making a switch in goal.

Ifwat took his chance with both hands

Ifwat, who joined the Kedah Under-21 side as a 17 year-old, hasn’t looked back ever since.

“It was a chance that I was waiting for. I come from Alor Setar in Kedah … so playing for the Red Eagles has been something I have always aspired for,” Ifwat told FourFourTwo.

“Having never been in the Harimau Muda set-up, I know my way to donning the colours was by first breaking into Kedah’s senior team. Otherwise it would be difficult to catch the attention of the national team coaches.

Ifwat has impressed with Kedah

MALAYSIA NERVES AND DISAPPOINTING SEA GAMES

Ifwat’s performance at Kedah caught the attention of Malaysia coach Nelo Vingada, who named the youngster in the Tigers squad that faced Hong Kong in the Asian Cup qualifiers on October 10.

I was initially nervous going for it because it was something totally new

- Ifwat Akmal

“I was delighted with the call-up … my first. I was initially nervous going for it because it was something totally new,” said Ifwat.

“I did not play but it was a big honour to be part of a team that every footballer in the country aspires to play for.

“I feel ready. I never played for Malaysia apart from the Under-22s but it wasn’t difficult getting comfortable because I saw it as similar with my time at Kedah. I was a youngster coming into the Kedah senior team and it’s the same for Malaysia.

“Many senior players from Kedah are also in the national team, so that helped me settle down as well.”

The youngster was thrilled to be called up

But before his debut international call-up, Ifwat was expected to be Malaysia’s No.1 at the SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur.

He started against Brunei and Laos but made way for Haziq Nadzli, the third choice goalkeeper at Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT), in key matches as Malaysia finished runners-up to Thailand.

Haziq and I are good friends and I reckon we both have our advantages. The team must always come first

- Ifwat Akmal

While disappointed not to have played a bigger role, Ifwat prefers to think of it as a challenge.

“Of course I was upset, but I didn’t want to be affected by it. The coach made his pick and as players there is nothing we can do about it apart from working harder,” he said

“Haziq and I are good friends and I reckon we both have our advantages. The team must always come first.”

WHAT’S NEXT?

Breaking into the Harimau Malaya starting-11 is what Ifwat needs to aspire to do next but with the likes of Khairul Azhan Khalid, Hafizul Hakim Khairul Nizam Jothy and Izham Tarmizi Roslan all staking a claim for the No. 1 jersey, he will have to be patient.

Ifwat will want the number one jersey with the Tigers

Already at one of the top sides in the nation - Kedah, the best way for the youngster to improve further could be to head abroad.

“Preferably, I want to go outside Malaysia and gain experience. I know it’s tough, especially for a goalkeeper, because there are not many in the region that are playing outside their home countries.

“I’m still only 21 and have a long career ahead. I am happy with how I have progressed since last season but I have to stay grounded and keep working hard. I want to get better."

Photos: Asiana.my