Malaysia U-19's Izhan looking to turn personal AFC Championship nightmare into happy ending

Malaysia U-19 goalkeeper Sikh Izhan Nazrel Sikh Azman could see the funny side of the recent 2020 AFC U-19 Championship draw. Alongside Qatar and Yemen, the Young Tigers have also been drawn together with Tajikistan in Group D in the finals, which will be held in Uzbekistan from October 14 to 31.

The young custodian has gone through a memorable experience against the Tajiks, the last time they met back in 2018.

Then playing for Malaysia U-16 in the 2018 AFC U-16 Championship, he helped the hosts record an exciting 6-2 win over the Tajiks in the tournament-opening encounter. Unfortunately for Izhan, he found himself sent off for a dangerous in-the-air challenge with seconds remaining on the clock, a lunge that he maintains was not a malicious one to this day.

When contacted by Goal for comments on the draw on Tuesday, the teenager could afford to joke about the fact that the two teams will be meeting again, at a higher age level.

"I'm reliving my trauma once again! (Laughs) But on a serious note, that incident was a very good lesson for me, and Lim Teong Kim (Malaysia U-16 head coach at the time) told me that as a youth footballer I could not avoid making mistakes like that.

"For now I just want to build on my place in the Selangor 2 first eleven in order to earn a Malaysia call-up spot. But my targets are admittedly lofty; I want to play in the AFC finals and help the team reach the [2020 U-20] World Cup (by reaching the AFC semi-finals). This is my second chance to get to the World Cup,"

But before that could happen, his attention is now on training with Selangor 2, where many of his Malaysia U-19 teammates also are. The Premier League side were the second Malaysian league team to be allowed to return to training last week, post-Covid 19 quarantine.

He revealed to Goal what training amidst coronavirus concerns entails, with the Malaysian government permitting only non-contact sporting activities and training to be conducted for the time being.

"For us at the reserve team, we've been divided into three training groups of ten players each. Today for example, the first group will train at 4.30 pm, the second at 5.30 pm, and the last group will undergo training at 6.30 pm.

"As a goalkeeper, I would begin with warm-up, then a 10-minute jog, before proceeding with goalkeeping sets. For the outfield players, they would continue with ball-control drills. 

"There's not much that's different to be honest, but what is different for me is that while previously goalkeepers would train together, we now train separately because each group will include only one goalie. It's a little lonely that way, and also tiring. While previously the goalkeeping duty during practice, for example in outfield players' shooting drills, was shared among all the squad goalkeepers, now each goalkeeper has to do everything because he would be the only custodian on the pitch at the time," explained the former Mokhtar Dahari Academy graduate.