Speedy winger Hafiz Nor refines game and returns to Lions' fold
Home United winger has refined his game to include end product - goals
More than three years on from his last national team appearance, Hafiz Nor has returned to the Lions' fold, thanks to his impressive form for Home United this season.
The winger's last appearance - the second of his two caps - came in 2016, but he could earn his next two in the coming week, as the Lions embark on their World Cup 2022 qualification journey with matches against Group D rivals Yemen (tomorrow) and Palestine (next Tuesday) .
By his own admission, the 31-year-old is far from the same player who first donned the Singapore kit against Laos in June 2013.
Speaking to The New Paper yesterday at the Oasia Hotel in Novena, where the team are based, Hafiz believes he has more to his repertoire than just raw speed these days.
He has refined his game and added an end product, and he has the numbers to back it up.
This has been Hafiz's most productive season, having racked up nine goals in all competitions.
He said: "Yeah, like you said, I have added (an end product) to my game. Yes, speed gives me some advantage but I've realised it's not always speed. You have to play with your brain.
"So, I kept telling myself to not always use my speed, but also use my brain."
A 100m and 200m sprinter in his secondary school days, Hafiz has often used his blinding pace to blitz past opponents - a sight that local fans have grown accustomed to since he made his debut eight years ago for Tanjong Pagar United.
Since then, he has built a reputation for being one of the fastest players in the domestic league.
In recent video interviews posted on Singapore Premier League (SPL)'s social media, Hafiz's clubmates, Abdil Qaiyyim, Faizal Roslan and Ho Wai Loon all revealed that Hafiz was by far the quickest in the team and that he had earned the nickname "The Flash" or "Mr Flash".
While Hafiz's pace has given defenders reasons to quake in their boots for the last eight years, the former Geylang International and Warriors FC winger has not stopped adding to his game since joining the Protectors for a second stint, two years ago.
It also helped that at Home, he has the benefit of learning from former national stalwarts Shahril Ishak and Noh Rahman, their interim coach.
"Their experience helped me to become a better player and they are always around to guide me," said Hafiz, who also revealed that another former Home star, Indra Sahdan Daud, who netted against Japan (2004), Uruguay (2002) and Manchester United (2001), was the player he looked up to most.
Hafiz said: "When I was with Home (for the first stint), back in 2012, I was playing with him. I watched him up close and he really guided me.
"His finishing and his first touches were incredible. I learnt a lot from him... He's a very good player and someone who I really think of as an idol."
Like Hafiz, football too has evolved, especially with more countries investing in state-of-the-art facilities, sports science and equipment along with the evolution of tactics, philosophy and formations.
But one thing still highly valued and transcending football cultures across the globe is speed - a quality that is almost impossible to nullify.
SPEED IS WHAT HE NEEDS
That is not lost on new Lions coach Tatsuma Yoshida, who is definitely not lacking speed merchants in his 23-man squad.
His armoury of rapid assault weapons includes Hafiz and roommate, Shawal Anuar, Fareez Farhan, Hazzuwan Halim and Faris Ramli.
Yoshida told TNP: "I saw Hafiz play many times and he was very consistent. He has good balance. He can play well as a second striker too. So, he is a very good option for us.
"In an international competition, we need physical abilities like speed. Hafiz not only has that but he also has good thinking, good tactical knowledge and good skills."
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