Singapore Football

Safuwan will always be Man of the Match as a centre-back: Fandi

He rose to stardom as a defender, but has also played in midfield and even up front.

Versatility is Safuwan Baharudin's calling card, but it also led to a conundrum over where the utility man's best position is.

For national coach Fandi Ahmad, however, this issue has been settled.

The 26-year-old Pahang FA star will go back to where he made a name for himself - in the centre of defence, where he paired up with Baihakki Khaizan during Singapore's AFF Suzuki Cup-winning run in 2012, which also happened to be the last time the Lions made it out of the group stage of the biennial tournament.

During last Friday's 1-1 draw with Mauritius, Safuwan started as a centre-back, partnering Irfan Fandi in a four-man backline. Baihakki replaced Irfan in the second half.

Said Fandi at yesterday's pre-match press conference: "We are happy Safuwan agreed to play in his best position.

"We talked to him about it. (national team mentor Noh) Alam Shah and (national team manager) Eric (Ong) went up to speak to him (in Kuantan).

"When I came back (to take the national team), I spoke to him also and told him this is his best position (centre-back) and he will always be Man of the Match if he plays there.

"We don't need to see him as a midfielder or a striker because he knows what is best for him. He came up to me (after the Mauritius game) and told me that this is his best position to play.

"I think with him there (at centre-back), we have solved the problem at the back.

"He is reliable and hopefully he can continue to perform there like he did in the last game."

WITHDREW

Meanwhile, Hougang United forward Iqbal Hussain withdrew from the team yesterday due to injury and has been replaced by Young Lions attacker Haiqal Pashia.

The 19-year-old joins the Suzliman brothers, Zulqarnaen and Zulfadhmi, and Jacob Mahler as newcomers to the squad.

With Fandi admitting that he could be making four to five changes to the side that drew 1-1 with Mauritius last week, Mahler and his fellow Young Lions teammates such as Haiqal and Hami Syahin could feature.

The Suzliman siblings made their international debut in last Friday's draw with Mauritius.

"Everyone is eager and wanting to play," said Fandi.

"I can see the senior players talking to the younger ones, like Bai(hakki) to Zul(qarnaen), Shahril (Ishak) also talking a lot… in training as well, there's a lot of encouragement.

"Everybody seems on their feet to get a position in the team, which is healthy competition… we are very happy to give a chance to youngsters."

Singapore Football