Kampung kid from Malaysia upstages the best
Penang's Faiz is first Asian to win Fifa Puskas Award for his sensational goal
Since the inception of the Fifa Puskas Award for the most beautiful goal of the year in 2009, its winners have hailed from Portugal, Turkey, Brazil (twice), Slovakia, Sweden and Colombia, countries that have all featured at the World Cup.
Yesterday morning (Singapore time), Faiz Subri, a kampung kid from Kedah, a footballer uncapped by Malaysia, broke that stranglehold as he was presented with the prestigious plaque by legendary Brazilian striker Ronaldo at the Fifa Awards in Zurich, Switzerland.
Garnering 59.46 per cent of the votes, the second-highest in the history of the award, Faiz defeated Corinthians midfielder Marlone and Colombia's women's youth footballer Daniuska Rodriguez.
In doing so, he not only put his name alongside past winners such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Neymar, but also placed Malaysia on the world football map.
The 29-year-old Penang midfielder said: "I want to inspire young Malaysians. Hopefully, after seeing me win the prize, they will believe they can do the same.
"There has not been much to smile about for Malaysian fans recently (the Tigers were knocked out of the Suzuki Cup group stages last year and slipped to 161st in Fifa rankings)... but I want to show anything is possible in football."
Faiz is the first Asian footballer to win the Puskas Award.
His winning goal was his second for Penang in a 4-1 Malaysian Super League home victory over Pahang at the City Stadium on Feb 16 last year.
Much like Singaporean midfielder Fabian Kwok's stunning half-field volley off a goalkeeper's clearance in 2014, Faiz's spectacular effort went viral.
Faiz insisted his strike wasn't a fluke, and said: "I'm proud but also surprised that it went in.
"I meant to take it like that as I have been practising it in training.
"It was the first time I tried it this way in a match because most of my free-kicks are aimed directly at goal.
"Maybe I can do it again, but everyone would be expecting it whenever I take a free-kick. So it will be tough to repeat it."
Looking sharp in his black suit and bow tie, after his request to break Fifa's dress code and wear traditional Malay attire was rejected, Faiz looked a bundle of nerves on stage when he fumbled on his phone to search for his prepared speech.
He read: "Honestly, it has never crossed my mind that I will arrive at this level and be able to stand tall amongst world-class players in this amazing place.
"I would like to say 'thank you' to the management of Penang, all the coaches, my teammates, staff, PFAM, my family, fellow Malaysians and everyone who voted for me.
"To the FAM (Football Association of Malaysia) and FMLLP (Football Malaysia LLP), I owe so much to you for submitting my goal for evaluation."
But Faiz did overcome his nerves to score wefies with Best Men's Player winner Cristiano Ronaldo, goalkeeper of the Fifa's best XI Manual Neuer and former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson.
Back at Kampung Tok Kepak in Kedah, about 100 had gathered to watch the Fifa Awards' live telecast on a big-screen projector set up in the yard of Faiz's parents' home since midnight.
Faiz's father, Subri Kader, revealed how his son nearly took up badminton instead.
The 64-year-old told Bernama: "I also played badminton before and often took Faiz along during competitions in the village.
"But I saw the football talent in him when he was only three years old, especially his skill in controlling the ball while playing at his grandfather's house.
"His kick is sharp and accurate and he dribbles well."
Faiz's fairy tale has now become the toast of his nation, with Malaysia Prime Minister Najib Razak leading the tributes, as he tweeted: "Your success has brought inspiration to many footballers in Malaysia and has brought pride to the country."