LionsXII striker Nizam vows to make up for lost time
KELANTAN v LIONSXII
(Tonight, 8.30pm, StarHub TV Ch 202)
Khairul Nizam is chomping at the bit for his first taste of Malaysian Super League (MSL) action this season.
As winger Faris Ramli and forward Sahil Suhaimi were unavailable due to last night's friendly between the national Under-23 team and Japan U-22 - which they lost 8-1 - LionsXII coach Fandi Ahmad has decided to start with Nizam in tonight's MSL clash with Kelantan.
The 23-year-old striker will likely play on the left side of a three-pronged attack led by Khairul Amri, with winger Gabriel Quak operating on the wide right position.
Faris excelled on the left flank in the LionsXII's 5-3 win over PDRM last weekend and Nizam is keen to show that he is equal to the task.
"This (starting place) is really important to me, I really want to play. I need to prove to my family, friends and the fans that I'm still here," said Nizam.
Dogged in the tackle and a threat in the air, big things were expected of the burly striker since he joined the LionsXII, but injuries have limited his appearances over the years.
Nizam tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in 2012 and, during his long road to recovery, suffered a freak accident at home and hurt the same knee again.
He also spent a large part of the 2014 season on the sidelines, with his last start for the LionsXII coming in a 2-1 loss to Pahang in the Malaysia Cup last September.
His catalogue of injuries means that he has shown only in flashes that he has what it takes to be in the first team.
But he is ready to start afresh and drag himself back into contention.
Boosted by news that he's set for his first start of the season, Nizam worked his socks off during yesterday's training session at Kelantan's Sultan Muhammad IV Stadium.
After slamming a shot against the post despite having a clear sight on goal, he smacked his hand against his thigh and looked absolutely disgusted with himself.
"I have missed a lot - a lot. And I need to push myself to prove what I can do," he said.
"My knee is okay, but my fitness isn't. I don't think think I can last very long, probably only about 70 minutes.
"It has been very tough mentally (to come through all those periods of being out injured), but it has made me focus on the things that I can do.
"And against Kelantan, I will just give of my best."
Explaining his decision to start with Nizam, Fandi said: "We need aggression up front, and Nizam can swop positions with Amri, too.
"His strength in the air will be very helpful in set-pieces in defence and attack. He can maybe last between 45 and 60 minutes, but that's good enough for me."
Although he is without Faris and Sahil, Fandi is confident that his team can do the job.
"The boys are quite fresh and are eagerly waiting for the game," said Fandi.
"We must be patient and disciplined in the first 25 minutes. We'll need a 100 per cent effort from the boys.
"We don't have individuals who can single-handedly win games, so it's important that everybody knows his role."
This (starting place) is really important to me, I really want to play. I need to prove to my family, friends and the fans that I’m still here.
- LionsXII striker Khairul Nizam
LIONSXII: Izwan Mahbud, Nazrul Nazari, Madhu Mohana, Afiq Yunos, Hafiz Abu Sujad, Isa Halim, Gabriel Quak, Izzdin Shafiq, Zulfahmi Arifin, Khairul Nizam, Khairul Amri.
KELANTAN: Khairul Fahmie Che Mat, Noor Hazrul Mustaffa, Jon McKain, Norhafiz Zamani, Nik Shahrul, Amar Rohidan, Isaac Pupo, Wan Zack Haikal, Badhri Radzi, Wan Zaharulnizam, Erwin Carillo