PETALING JAYA: A starting berth looks bright for winger Arif Aiman Hanapi (pic) in Malaysia’s last Group G tie against Thailand in the World Cup 2022-Asian Cup 2023 second-round qualifiers tomorrow.
The 19-year-old played confidently in his first international debut against Vietnam but all his hard work ended in vain as Malaysia went down 2-1 on Saturday.
He is seen as the best candidate to replace right-winger Mohamadou Sumareh who has been suspended for the game against Thailand after collecting two yellow cards.
The others to miss the match due to suspension are leftback La’vere Corbin Ong and midfielder Syamer Kutty Abba.
In his 29 minutes cameo two days ago, Arif created two chances, had a successful passing rate of almost 80%, made three crosses and won all his duels.
But Arif downplayed his prominent show.
“I was nervous before the match because I’ve never played on the international stage. I guess it’s normal to have jitters. But when I was on the pitch, I forgot all about it,” said Arif.
“It was a good experience for me. I want to be better in the years to come. I won’t get too relaxed or overconfident.
“I am ready to take on any role against Thailand, whether as a first 11 player or substitute. I will give my all to the team.”
Arif’s spot in the national team is merited as the Johor Darul Ta’zim player is one of the best wingers in the Super League.
He has played all of the club’s 13 games, starting nine of them in the league.
Arif scored two goals and notched an assist, but he is known more for his trickery and ability to open up spaces for strikers with his movement.
Arif said his game time in JDT has helped him adapt to the national team environment.
“My experience in JDT has helped me to adjust to the life in the national team. I can cope with high intensity games,” he said.
“I was surprised when I was named for the national team as I’m still young.
“But I’m glad coach (Tan Cheng Hoe) trusted me based on my performance in the league, as that confidence has helped me here.”