Syafiq sees GBK atmosphere as boost rather than bane

When Syafiq limped off in the Preliminary Round 1 of the joint 2022 World Cup and 2023 Asian Cup first leg against Timor Leste, he was not expected to be part of the Malaysia squad that took on Indonesia in Thursday's opening Group G match, let alone being on the team sheet as a starter.

But such has been his strong showing in training and in the friendly against Jordan that forced Tan Cheng Hoe to drop Akram Mahinan and push Brendan Gan slightly back just to slot Syafiq into the team. Playing in the hole behind striker Norshahrul Idlan Talah, Syafiq has shown that he's a growing presence in that role.

When he glanced in a Safawi Rasid cross in the 65th minute, it brought about a deafening silence inside the stadium from a shell-shocked home side. What ensued afterwards was not people want to see from a football game but Syafiq's did have a massive impact on the home team as well as their fans.

Syafiq Ahmad, Indonesia v Malaysia, 2022 World Cup qualifier, 5 Sep 2019

"We never gave up despite how it went in the first half. It's not just me but everyone rose to the occasion and because of the help of my team mates that I managed to score the goal. It has been a struggle to find back my form since the injury and it has been two months since I last played. I just kept on working hard to get back.

"We know that here (in Jakarta) their fans can be overly fanatic. We knew what was waiting for us in terms of atmosphere but still we were quite nervous in the first half. We spoke about needing to be more brave and fight until the end. We trust the police to protect us if any fan tries to come to the pitch so we just focus on what we had to do. 

"Gelora Bung Karno is a stadium that is very intimidating and can strike fear into opposition teams but for us it provided an extra motivation to do well in the match," said Syafiq after the match.

Syafiq Ahmad, Indonesia v Malaysia, 2022 World Cup qualifier, 5 Sep 2019

Immediately after the second goal, Syafiq was pushed into a central striker position after Norshahrul Idlan Talaha was brought off for Akhyar Rashid, a position which Syafiq may yet find a more permanent place in given how he has performed compared to Norshahrul in the match.

With the United Arab Emirates (UAE) mach on the horizon, it would be perhaps too brave from Cheng Hoe to use the same XI, even in a home game. UAE are a far stronger opponent and a more defensive minded midfielder could be needed in the centre of the pitch.

There are still a few more days of training to come, it will be interesting to see if Cheng Hoe finally takes Norshahrul out from the starting line-up and give Syafiq the chance he deserves. 


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