OKS turns to former protégé Irfan for Safiq’s replacement
Former Malaysia Under-23 captain Irfan Fazail was among the 13 changes made by Ong Kim Swee in the Tigers call-up list announced on Monday.
Ong, who was forced to make bulk changes due to international retirements and injuries, turned to his most trusted lieutenant and a few other former Harimau Muda graduates to beef up the squad for the international friendly against Indonesian on September 6.
Irfan, who plays for Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) II in the Malaysia Premier League (MPL), was occasionally called up to the national team squad as cover during K. Rajagobal’s tenure but his international career never took off as Irfan swiftly returned to the Under-23 side.
Ong, however, feels Irfan is ready to step up in Safiq Rahim’s absence and insisted that his second-tier status was no indication of the 25-year-old’s capabilities.
Ong, however, was quick to warn that Irfan will need to be on his toes.
“Everyone is aware that Safiq has exceptional talent but we need to move on following his international retirement. There were other players I needed to change due to several reasons like retirement, injuries and fine-tuning the squad,” Ong told FourFourTwo.
“Irfan is among the new players coming in that must show they deserve to be in the squad. I have worked with him before and know the type of player he is, but Irfan must work hard to stay in the squad like everyone else.
Irfan is among the new players coming in that must show they deserve to be in the squad
“I am not here to give free rides to any players in the squad. Having played for me at Harimau Muda does not guarantee a place in the Tigers squad.
“I have been monitoring his progress at JDT II and he has been playing well regularly. I understand that he plays in the MPL but I believe he is worthy of a place in most MSL teams.
“He knows of the demands in international football and has the ability to make defence splitting passes. Furthermore, he is a player who has worked with me and will know what I expect of him.”
Irfan will find himself in familiar surroundings as he has worked with most members of Ong’s backroom staff and played alongside the likes of Azrif Nasrulhaq, Ahmad Hazwan Bakri and Wan Zack Haikal Wan Noor.
Wan Zack, who was dropped from the last Tigers squad, was recalled to the squad after impressing for Kelantan since the MSL resumed in July.
The other new additions to the team are Khairul Azhan Khalid, S. Veenod, Adam Nor Azlin, Hafizul Hakim Khairul Nizam, Nazirul Naim Che Hashim, Shahrul Saad, Amer Saidin, Fakrul Aiman Sidid, Ronny Harun, Matthew Davies and Safawi Rasid.
Among the names missing from the squad are retired JDT quartet – Safiq, Aidil Zafuan Abdul Radzak, S. Kunanlan and Amirul Hadi Zainal – and injured players such as Shahrom Kalam, Christie Jayaseelan, Junior Eldstal. Izham Tarmizi Roslan, Mahali Jasuli and Fazly Mazlan.
Kedah goalkeeper Farhan Abu Bakar, S. Chanthuru, Amirulhisyam Awang Kechik and S. Kumaahran were dropped from the squad.
Goalkeepers: Khairul Azhan Khalid, Khairul Fahmi Che Mat, Hafizul Hakin Khairul Nizam Jothy
Defenders: Fadhli Shas, Azrif Nasrulhaq, Amer Saidin, Shahrul Saad, Nazirul Naim Che Hashim, Ronny Harun, Khair Jones, Matthew Davies.
Midfielders: S. Venood, Adam Nor Azlin, Brendan Gan, Wan Zack Haikal Wan Noor, Irfan Fazail, Abdul Latiff Suhaimi, Fakrul Aiman Sidid, Baddrol Bakhtiar, Ahmad Fakri Saarani, Safawi Rasid.
Forwards: Amri Yahyah, Ahmad Hazwan Bakri, Zaquan Adha Abdul Radzak.