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FFT SEA Awards: Our Rising Star says being cut by Ong Kim Swee was a blessing

Safawi Rasid first came to prominence during his second season in Malaysian football back in 2016. But Safawi, named our Rising Star in the inaugural FourFourTwo Southeast Asian football awards, says an incident later that same year spurred him to reach greater heights...

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Safawi Rasid first made the Malaysia Super League (MSL) take notice of him in 2016 when he helped T-Team (now known as Terengganu II) to a decent seventh-place finish, having been tipped by many for top-flight relegation.

His form soon attracted interest from Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT), with the left-sided attacker duly making the switch to the Malaysian giants.

It was very disappointing to miss the competition, but now I feel it was probably for the best because it felt like a challenge to get better

- Safawi Rasid

But shortly before that dream move, Safawi was abruptly dropped from Malaysia’s AFF Suzuki Cup campaign by coach Ong Kim Swee just one day before the team was due to leave for the tournament in Myanmar.

Harimau Malaya would go on to crash out in the group stage and have been on a continuous downhill slide ever since, sitting at an all-time low of No.175 in the current FIFA world rankings.

But for Safawi, his stocks are on the rise, despite playing less game time in 2017 than in his previous season with the Titans.

READ ALSO: Malaysia have unearthed a rare gem in Safawi

Having represented Malaysia in a couple of friendlies in 2016, Safawi made his full international debut late last year, scoring in consecutive Asian Cup qualifiers from the bench in back-to-back 4-1 defeats to North Korea.

Safawi, in action last week, hopes for more playing time in 2018

He also starred for the the Malaysian Under-22 side in its run to the silver medal on home soil in the SEA Games in August.

I want to go abroad and I am waiting for an offer or an opportunity do so by JDT. I will keep striving for that

Looking back on that difficult time when he was dropped by OKS, Safawi says it now feels like a blessing in disguise.

“It was very disappointing to miss the competition, but thinking of it now I feel it was probably for the best because it felt like a challenge to get better for 2017,” Safawi told FourFourTwo.

“I’ve made the national team now and am at the best place I could be domestically with JDT. I want to play at the 2018 Suzuki Cup as that will be another platform to show ASEAN teams my talents.

“I want to go abroad and I am waiting for an offer or an opportunity do so by JDT. I will keep striving for that. Football in some countries is better than Malaysia in terms of the pace of the game and technique.”

Safawi starred at the AFC U23 Championships

Safawi beat a hot field to win the Rising Star award, which was voted on prior to his starring role at the AFC Under-23 Championships in January.

Vietnam AFC U23 finalist Nguyen Quang Hai, Thai duo Kevin Deeromram and Jakkit Wechpirom, plus Safawi's compatriot Akhyar Rashid were the other finalists for the award.

Safawi, who will turn 21 next month, broke into T-Team's Malaysia Cup squad in 2014 at the age of just 17.

He admits he would have loved more game time at JDT last year, but insists the move was not in vain as he made plenty of breakthroughs, including playing in the 2017 AFC Champions League qualifiers.

[NEXT: Assessing his JDT move and Malaysia's Under-23 breakthrough]