PETALING JAYA: National striker Nizaruddin Yusop sees the Asean Football Federation (AFF) Championship as a good opportunity for the team to show that Malaysian football is on its way up.
Malaysia are currently at a lowly 152 in the FIFA world rankings. The status took another dive when the Under-23 team took a beating in the Doha Asian Games last month, losing all their group matches – against Iraq (0-4), Oman (1-3) and China (1-3).
The 28-year-old Nizaruddin feels that there is a need for the team to give Malaysian football a boost with a strong performance in the AFF Championship.
The championship begins on Friday and Malaysia will play their opening match against the Philippines in Group A at the Suphachalasai Stadium in Bangkok. Myanmar and hosts Thailand are the other teams in the group.
Defending champions Singapore will host the Group B matches, featuring Laos, Vietnam and Indonesia.
Nizaruddin, who will be making his third appearance in the championship, said: “I think we have a strong chance to make the semi-finals. Myanmar are strong but I believe that we can beat them. The main problem for us is Thailand.”
Nizaruddin played in the 2000 and 2002 tournaments and helped Malaysia finish third and fourth respectively.
Although he has played many times for the country, Nizaruddin still feels a strong sense of excitement in donning national colours.
“It has been a year since I last played for the country in the World Cup qualifiers. I am always proud to represent the country. I believe it is a privilege to be chosen,” said Nizaruddin, who has earned 56 international caps since 1999.
He earned a surprise call-up last week together with Pahang striker Hairuddin Omar.
“Coach Norizan (Bakar) told Hairuddin and me that we were picked because he wanted a few mature players upfront who can hold the ball well,” said Nizaruddin, who plays in the Premier League for UPB-My Team.
“We have two young strikers in Kedah’s Khyril Muhymeen and Shafiq Jamal. Norizan wants Hairuddin and me to play behind these players. So far it’s been working out well.
“We finished third two years ago. There is pressure to at least emulate that achievement. I have been in high-pressure situations before. I have learned from those moments and I will use my experience to help the team in the AFF Championship.”