(No headline) - AASOC06
The ball came at him at a height and effortlessly, Shahfiq Ghani backheeled it to a teammate the moment it touched the ground, leaving the defence flat-footed.
There were precious few moments of class when the LionsXII took on the National Football Academy Under-18s in a friendly last night, and Shahfiq was responsible for most of them.
Several LionsXII regulars were rested yesterday, having played in Singapore's Asian Cup qualifier against Jordan the day before.
The friendly - which the LionsXII won 5-1 - was a chance for the reserves to stake a claim for a starting spot for Saturday's Malaysian Super League (MSL) clash against Terengganu at the Jalan Besar Stadium.
For Shahfiq, it was also a chance to gain much-needed match fitness, after being sidelined with a back injury suffered at the Myanmar South-east Asia (SEA) Games last December.
His performance, which included an assist, was enough to impress coach Fandi Ahmad.
"Shahfiq looked good. He was stringing passes, creating chances, and I'm glad he got through 60 minutes," said Fandi.
"We'll check his status. If he's ready, he could start on Saturday."
Shahfiq was thrown on late in the 2-1 win over Selangor two weeks ago, providing an assist after his wicked corner was powered home by a Khairul Amri header for the winner.
The gifted 21-year-old played a big role in the LionsXII's title-winning season last year, scoring five goals, including a couple of rasping free-kicks.
Fandi has already identified him as one of the key players this season.
"He's got vision and a very good shot; he has the ability to help us," the 51-year-old said.
"But after the SEA Games, his confidence was affected, and his injury didn't help. Hopefully, he can get back to last year's form."
Shahfiq knows he performed well below par in Myanmar and hopes to make amends.
"Whatever I did in the MSL last year, worked. At the SEA Games, it was the opposite. Everything flopped. It frustrated me, and then the pressure from my coaches and the media got to me," he told The New Paper.
"To make things worse, I suffered an injury in the semi-finals against Thailand... it was a horrible end to a good year."
Back to full fitness, Shahfiq is raring to move forward.
"I've never been more eager to play... I really miss the MSL crowd," he said.
"I'm excited to play for a coach like Fandi, because he really encourages attacking football.
"That's the style I like. Hopefully, on Saturday, I get the call to play."
"Shahfiq looked good. He was stringing passes, creating chances, and I'm glad he got through 60 minutes.... If he's ready, he could start on Saturday."
- LionsXII coach Fandi Ahmad, on Shahfiq Ghani (right) M'SIAN SUPER LEAGUE