Our man on the ground Nicolas Anil picks the top choices to keep goal for Malaysia as Tan Cheng Hoe ushers in a new era.
After failing to win a single game in 2017, Malaysia are set to open their international calendar with back-to-back matches against Mongolia (friendly) and Lebanon (Asian Cup qualifier) this month.
There is fresh cause for optimism with several promising new outfield faces included, but the goalkeeping department remains a major concern.
National coach Tan Cheng Hoe doesn’t have much prospects in goal and has called up Khairul Fahmi Che Mat, Hafizul Hakim and Haziq Nadzli as his trusted custodians.
FOX Sports Asia looks at what each of them can offer, plus the ones who could come in should they fumble.
Khairul Fahmi Che Mat (Kelantan)
Life has not been plain sailing for the man best known for his sizzling saves at the 2010 AFF Suzuki Cup, where he inspired Malaysia to their last international triumph. Khairul Fahmi remains the main man at Kelantan and is still part of the national fold, but his prowess has waned in recent times. He only featured once in national colours against Myanmar last year, and has already shipped in nine goals in the league this year. But Tan keeps faith with ‘Apek’ because of his vast experience and composure in crucial moments. He may still be prone to conceding the odd soft goal, but could be counted on when it matters most.
Hafizul Hakim (Perak)
The man from Ipoh keeps his place in the team after being the most consistent performer in 2017. Despite conceding 11 goals in four appearances against North Korea and Hong Kong over two legs, there was nothing much the lanky custodian could do about most of the goals with a leaky defence in front of him. Hafizul has started this season in decent fashion with two shutouts in the league, and looks a promising bet to keep improving. His anticipation and bravery will once again be counted on should he be selected against Mongolia and Lebanon.
Haziq Nadzli (Johor Darul Ta’zim)
One of the ‘babies’ of the 29-man squad, Haziq has shown immense composure and maturity to put behind the debacle of his own goal against Thailand at the Southeast Asian Games Under-22 football final last year. National U-23 coach Ong Kim Swee deserves much of the credit for keeping faith with the 20-year-old at the U-23 Asian Championship in January. Haziq reciprocated with a brave and committed performance to help the team to the quarterfinals. This year, he has already kept goal twice for the Southern Tigers against PKNP FC and Kuala Lumpur. If Tan gives Haziq some game time against either Mongolia or Lebanon, it would only serve as a confidence booster for the promising youngster.
Farizal Marlias (Johor Darul Ta’zim)
It has been a whirlwind period for the Southern Tigers custodian after coming off his eight-month long ban for reacting violently towards match officials in the AFC Cup against Ceres-Negros last year. With competition high in goal this season, Farizal was expected to play second fiddle to Izham Tarmizi who deputised well in his absence, as well as the promising Haziq. But the Pahang-born stopper returned to the first team against Indonesia’s Persija Jakarta in the AFC Cup, and has reestablished himself as the first choice custodian. Quick off the blocks in danger situations, Farizal could be on Tan’s radar in future matches.
Helmi Eliza (Pahang)
If form is anything to go by, then Helmi Eliza should be another big contender for the national team gloves. At 35, Helmi comes with bags of experience, but it is his standout form this season that could catch Tan’s eye. Having only conceded two goals in the league with three clean sheets, Helmi has expertly marshaled the Pahang defence to second place behind JDT. Helmi’s reflexes are one of his main of standouts and continues to belie his age. It has been a long hiatus since Helmi donned the Malaysian jersey, but he could be in line to add to his 11 international caps.