From crocked to clinical
Reborn Nizam hopes to continue his fine scoring form
Big things were expected of Khairul Nizam when he signed for the LionsXII in 2012.
Alas, the injury jinx struck and the forward spent long spells on the sidelines and became a peripheral figure in coach Fandi Ahmad's plans.
This season, it looks like the 23-year-old has finally put his injury woes behind him.
Four goals in five games - his longest run of matches injury-free - have given Nizam plenty to smile about.
Riding on a wave of confidence, he capped his recent form and fitness with a goal in the first leg of the Malaysian FA Cup semi-final against Terengganu in front of 5,891 fans at the Jalan Besar Stadium last Saturday.
Nizam admits to being much fitter and healthier than before, and he gives the LionsXII backroom staff credit for that.
"A lot of the credit has to go to Kak Fizah and Sasha, (team physiotherapist Nurhafizah Sujad and fitness coach Aleksandar Bozenko respectively) and the backroom staff," said Nizam yesterday.
"In the past two years, I could barely string a run of consecutive games together without sustaining some sort of injury.
"But, ever since the middle of last season, when my injury problems started becoming such a recurring nightmare, they've put me in rehabilitative training.
"I do extra work such as squats in the gym - working on core muscles, knees and ankles. These were things I wasn't disciplined enough to do in the past, so I'm very thankful to have them around."
Nizam's fitness problems have been well documented. After making 17 appearances in all competitions in his debut LionsXII season in 2012, he played only six times - four in 2013 and two in 2014 - in the following two seasons.
But Fandi has always believed in the player who first burst onto the scene with the Young Lions in 2009 as a power forward with the strength and robustness of former national striker Noh Alam Shah.
Said Fandi: "Nizam gives us that physical edge up front against the big foreign defenders in the Malaysian Super League.
"Nizam can still get better. We saw in past matches against Pahang and JDT II that he is one of those players with a scoring instinct.
"The key is to keep him fit, help him to improve and get into top form."
Nizam attributes his red-hot form to his blossoming partnerhip with strike partner and half-brother Khairul Amri.
"He's a great player to play with. Not only are his energy levels constantly high, he also has the experience to guide a younger player like me," said Nizam, who is set to start in the second leg at Terengganu's Sultan Ismail Nasiruddin Shah Stadium on Saturday.
"He always talks to me in training and during matches, telling me things like how to control the ball and how to position myself.
"Credit also goes to coach Fandi. I've learnt a lot from him. There was one moment in the first leg (against Terengganu) when I could have taken a shot, but I decided to backheel the ball to Faris (Ramli). Coach pulled me aside to tell me not to be fancy, and don't do stupid things."
His immediate aim is to help the LionsXII qualify for the Malaysian FA Cup final, and hopes his form will earn a recall to the national team.
Nizam was not in the squad for the two international friendlies against Thailand and Guam in March, and was an unused substitute in all three of the Lions' group matches at last November's Suzuki Cup.
He earned his last cap in a friendly against Bahrain before the tournament.
Nizam said: "I hope I can score again at Terengganu to keep up my good form. We've come so far and I have to deliver.
"I like to take each game as it comes and, about that (the national team), we'll have to wait and see.
"I have to do enough to earn a call-up and, I'm sure that if I keep on scoring, it'll come soon enough."
Support LionsXII in Terengganu
Al Firdaus Travels is offering a two-day, three-night package for LionsXII fans intending to travel to Terengganu for Saturday's second leg of the Malaysian FA Cup semi-final between Fandi Ahmad's men and the Malaysian side.
The $160 deal includes a twin-sharing room with breakfast at the Hotel Grand Continental, a seafood dinner, a ticket in the Singapore section at the Sultan Ismail Nasiruddin Shah Stadium, travel insurance and a lucky draw.
Fans will travel to the north-eastern state via 29-seater coaches, which will depart at 10pm on Friday and return at 11am on Sunday.
For more information, please contact Walter Koh at 8122-2459/6297-2246.