Goalkeeper Muhammad Hafizuddin Othman’s idol in the game was veteran custodian S. Kumar, later was his teammate and now his goalkeeper coach and confidante, is the best thing that has happened to him.
Hafizuddin,30, after being taken to task by coach A. Arul Selvaraj, for his below par performance against the loss to Korea (0-3) in the opening game of the 29th Sultan Azlan Shah Cup 2022 in Ipoh on Nov 1, has risen to prove that he is team’s safe and solid vault at the back.
For that Hafizuddin thanked Kumar for guiding him back to his expected performance.
“I am indeed grateful that I have Kumar guiding me. His experience, his training, counselling, his advice and above all being my friend, has really seen me bounce back the way I have.
“But it is not over. All that performances in the last few games will come to nought, if I do not perform in the final and keep the team in the game,” said Hafizuddin who hails from Kuala Terengganu.
Kumar has 323 caps to his credit and played from 1999 to 2019.
“I was indeed shocked when coach Arul took me to task in the open after he game against Korea. He has ticked me off many times when I perform badly or slack in training, but he has never publicly criticised me.
“But coach Arul did speak to me one-on-one after and told me the reason why he did that, basically to make me stand up and respond positively.
“Kumar also spoke to me at length and told me that he had gone through similar situations and it takes man to bounce back.
“Kumar also pointed out my shortcomings and gave me pointers to redeem my performance.
“And I am glad that I responded positively and bounced back. The fact that coach Arul allowed me to play in the next game against Pakistan, when normally he rotates the goalkeepers, boosted my confidence.”
And Hafizuddin’s performance in the 1-1 draw against Pakistan earned him the man of the match medal.
Arul himself was happy at the way Hafizuddin responded and did well for the team.
“Hafizuddin showed tremendous character and his improved performance certainly played a key role in the progress of the team. Like I always said, goalkeepers keep the team in the game and it is their duty to ensure that they do that.”
Reserve goalkeeper, Mohd Zaimi Mat Derus, 25, started in the game against South Africa which was postponed after 14 minutes and played in the continued match two days later, but was replaced by Hafizuddin when he was injured in the game in the closing stages of the first quarter.
On the first game against Korea, Hafizuddin admitted that he played below par and made some errors, but said that it was just one of his ‘off days’.
“Every match I play, I want to give my best and be a positive energy for my team. That day against Korea, it was just not my day.”
Hafizuddin besides want to make amends for the opening game loss to Korea, also has in mind how the Asia Cup slipped in Jakarta where he was the goalkeeper too.
“It was said that we lost in the final in the Asia Cup to Korea (2-1) and we had beaten them and drawn with them earlier in the tournament.
“Nothing will be sweeter than a victory in the final tomorrow (today).”
Former national goalkeeper, Ahmad Fadzil Zainal Abidin, another veteran custodian for 14 years from 1978 to 1992 and capped 196 when met at the Gala Dinner on Tuesday night, was very impressed with Hafizuddin.
“He is an excellent goalkeeper and he is indeed solid at the back for the team. His performance will indeed play a key role in the final against Korea and I am confident that he will perform to redeem his performance in the opening game when Malaysia went down 0-3,” said Fadzil.
Indeed all eyes will be on Hafizuddin who was awarded the man of the match in the match against Pakistan.