PETALING JAYA: First-choice centreback Shahrul Saad’s misfortune could turn out to be Irfan Zakaria’s (pic) gain in the World Cup 2022-Asian Cup 2023 qualifiers.
The Kuala Lumpur defender may get a chance to make the starting line-up as Shahrul is injured.
Malaysia are slated to play in the qualifiers’ remaining Group G matches in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) from June 3-15. They’ll face the UAE on June 3, Vietnam (June 11) and Thailand (June 15).
The 25-year-old Irfan has 11 caps to date but has not featured in any international games after playing in Malaysia’s 2-1 friendly defeat to Afghanistan in March 2019.
Since then, Irfan has only endured a frustrating spell on the bench although he had been included by coach Tan Cheng Hoe for every national call-up. He did not play in any of Malaysia’s five matches in their ongoing qualifying campaign.
But Irfan, a member of the 2017 KL SEA Games silver-medal winning team, wants to make his mark in Harimau Malaya’s defence.
“The competition (to fill in Shahrul’s void) is very strong indeed, but I’m relishing the challenge, ” said Irfan.
Irfan has been in impressive form with the City Boys in the Super League as he had appeared in all of their 13 matches, as the team conceded just 14 goals in the process – the fourth-best defensive record among the 12 teams in the league.
But he knows that he needs more than his league form to convince Cheng Hoe to grant him a starting place.
Besides, he will also have to slug it out with the likes of Adam Nor Azlin, Thailand-based Junior Eldstal and Dominic Tan to start alongside captain Aidil Zafuan Abdul Radzak.
“I don’t think my form with Kuala Lumpur itself is enough (to win a place), but I will prove my worth by giving my all in the training, ” said Irfan.
“I still have a lot of shortcomings to overcome, and it’s important that I try to reduce my errors during play to convince the coaches that I’m up for it.
“If I get to play in the qualifiers, rest assured that I will give more than 100% for the team.”
Irfan is also thrilled and motivated at the prospect of teaming up with his idol Aidil, who boasts 87 caps, in the heart of the defence.
“I have always looked up to Aidil since I was young. I admire his style of play, ” he said.
“The way he leads, his influence, work rate... he’s just such a role model that I can learn a thing or two from, ” added Irfan, who reported for training on Sunday.
The team will leave for Dubai today to resume their centralised training, where they will be joined by four foreign-based players – Eldstal (Chonburi), Dominic (Police Tero), Liridon Krasniqi (Newcastle Jets) and Luqman Hakim Shamsuddin (KV Kortrijk).
The players will play a friendly against Kuwait on Sunday and then fly to Manama where they will play another friendly against Bahrain on May 28.