Izwan unfazed by Bukit Jalil hothouse
Izwan flourished in his baptism of fire and he's set to star at Bukit Jalil again
He will never forget the deafening roar of the 85,000 Malaysian supporters when he first played at the Bukit Jalil Stadium in Kuala Lumpur in 2011, describing it as a "crazy atmosphere".
He was just 21 then, and many wondered if the menacing environment would rattle Izwan Mahbud.
But the goalkeeper stood tall, delivering an outstanding performance to help Singapore secure a 1-1 draw in a World Cup qualifier, as the Lions advanced to the third round 6-4 on aggregate.
On Saturday, Izwan will return to Bukit Jalil with the LionsXII team to face Kelantan in the Malaysian FA Cup final, and he expects the atmosphere to be even more hostile.
"We know the Kelantan fans are very loud, so I hope our supporters will turn up to spur us on," the LionsXII captain told The New Paper yesterday.
"Our target is to win the cup - it's important for us to win every game and winning the cup will be a huge achievement."
Izwan insists he has not thought about climbing up the steps to lift the trophy, he says he is focused on only Saturday's match.
"Right now, I'm doing my usual routine, what I've been doing the whole season, and focusing on my training helps to ease the pressure."
On the LionsXII's chances of winning, he said that communication would be the key to a good performance.
Communication with his teammates is one area goalkeeping coach Lee Bee Seng says Izwan has become better.
He said: "They communicate and defend very well. Since he's at the back, it's very important that he links up well with the four defenders in front of him."
The former Singapore goalkeeper has been by Izwan's side for years now, helping him grow from a raw talent into arguably the best goalkeeper in Malaysia's domestic football competitions.
Lee, 62, was on the Singapore bench that night at Bukit Jalil when Izwan starred for the Lions.
Lee's presence helped Izwan on what in the end was a great night for the youngster.
"It was a huge experience, but also very pressurising because it was only my third international game," said Izwan, who was picked ahead of the team's No. 1 goalkeeper at the time, Lionel Lewis, who was nursing an injury.
"But I'm glad that I performed well."
The goalkeeper is a vocal leader not only on the pitch but also in the dressing room. Wearing the armband after captain Isa Halim's struggle with injury and the increased competition, Lee says Izwan brings a high level of motivation to the side and that earns him a lot of respect from the boys. Izwan is cool about his added responsibility.
"I never expected to be the captain or vice-captain. It is a great honour to be leading this team and it's easy to work with them because we know one another well after playing together for so long," he said.
He attributes his stellar rise to coach Lee, who has helped produce quality goalkeepers in Lewis, Shahril Jantan and Hassan Sunny.
"In the seven, eight years that I've trained under Bee Seng, he has given me many opportunities to improve not only my game but also my mental strength.
"He always reminds me to not place too much pressure on myself and to always play my game."
Lee, who played in the 1970s, is pleased with the progress of his protege.
"He is one of the best goalkeepers today who can play with both feet, not only in Singapore but also in South-east Asia. He has a great future," he said.
Lukewarm response to opening-day ticket sales
Ticket sales for the Malaysian FA Cup final between the LionsXII and Kelantan on Saturday went on sale at noon yesterday.
Perhaps due to the fact that fans had already purchased tickets and tour packages through operators, there were only some 15 fans who went to the box office at Jalan Besar Stadium to buy tickets in the first two hours.
Housewife Madam Fatimah, 61, was first in the line and had queued up since 10am.
"I thought there would be a long queue by the time I reached, but it turned out that there was no one else, so I went to have breakfast nearby before returning to queue," she said.
- BENJAMIN LIM
- The FAS would like to remind all LionsXII supporters heading to Bukit Jalil Stadium to enter the designated Singapore fan zone via the Blue Gate.