Debutant Afiq calls for stronger second match

Making the step up to international football is not easy, and that was exactly the lesson Afiq Fazail found out against North Korea.

Despite the negative outcome for Malaysia, the match against North Korea was still one that would represent a milestone in the career of young Afiq Fazail. The Johor Darul Ta'zim (JDT) midfielder made his international bow in the first of two games at I-Mobile Stadium in Buriram but it was one that would be a hard lesson for him.

The midfielder was put in a midfield trio alongside club team mate, Nazmi Faiz as well as Syamer Kutty Abba. Syamer was withdrawn at half time to allow Francisco 'Kiko' Insa to be moved into midfield while Afiq himself was taken out with 23 minutes left on the clock, with Nor Azam Azih coming on in his stead.

With the Koreans in the ascendency for much of the game, Afiq was left with plenty of defensive work in support of the back four and rarely ventured beyond the halfway line. A vast difference to the type of games he's usually involved in for JDT where his team has majority of the ball possession.

"It's not very good the game tonight (Friday) but it's a new experience for me. We played against a very good team and I wasn't satisfied with my performance, so there's plenty still for me to learn. They are different, in terms of size and technique. They are different quality but we'll need to stick together and come back strongly for the second game," said Afiq after the match.

The international debut for Afiq is just reward for the 23-year-old's performance for JDT this season. Not only has Afiq broken into the first team, he has played a huge number of matches for the Super League side, proving to be significant member of the first team in his first full season in Malaysia's top tier.

However, the match against North Korea will no doubt be an eye-opener for Afiq who knows the challenges and demands of top level international football is a completely different ball game to the experience he has gained thus far.

On a night where Malaysia failed to sparkle, Afiq was at least one of the few individual players who put in a better performance than some of his team mates. One that could well see the youngster keep his place in the starting line-up for Monday's reverse fixture.