2017 could possibly be the best year in Irfan Zakaria's budding career as a professional footballer. Not only is he leading his club side Kuala Lumpur to potential promotion to the Super League, the boy from Cheras is also playing a leading role in Malaysia's efforts to win the 2017 KL SEA Games football gold.
It has been a long journey for the 22-year-old, from his days playing for the district team of Selangor Section 11 to the Young Tigers C to this Under-22 squad - but Irfan is clearly stamping his mark under the guidance of Datuk Ong Kim Swee.
Predominantly a midfielder, Irfan is not adverse to playing in defence as he sometimes do for Kuala Lumpur. A fixture under Ong, barring a massive loss of form or a big injury, his place in the back three is a secured one.
Deployed as the centre of the back three, Irfan has the more aggressive Adam Nor Azlin and Adib Zainudin on either side of him. Being the more passive player who relies on his immaculate reading of the game, Irfan is excelling sweeping up behind Adam and Adib.
Wednesday night's match against Singapore that saw close to 50,000 people in attendance was undeniably the biggest moment in Irfan's career thus far. It was not only a spectacle for those in the stands but for the players on the pitch, it was an incredible scene as well.
"The feeling is a mixture of happy and nervous as it's my first time in front of such a crowd. It motivates us to play better in our home stadium," remarked Irfan to Goal on the atmosphere.
For a young team, the atmosphere can work in contrasting manner. Should the team be doing well, the cheers will no doubt be a motivation but when the going gets tough, chorus of dissatisfaction from the stands can be intimidating.
However, Irfan only prefers to take the positives out of it, no matter what is thrown from the crowd. Absorb what can inspire and aspire to be overcome whatever derision from the stands.
"For me, it doesn't really affect me. The fans always want the best from us. When we do well, people will cheer of us. When we make mistakes, we take it in our stride and try to improve," explained Irfan.
In the first two matches, Malaysia conceded in each of the matches against Brunei and Singapore. Not the kind of start any defender would want in tournament football. But like the case is in dealing with spectator pressure, Irfan knows it only means more work in the training ground as Malaysia gears up for what is expected to be the toughest fixture in the group stage.
"In these two games we did concede but we've looked at the games again and we have put in place efforts to ensure that we don't concede any more."
"Pressure will be high because we know Myanmar's game and what they are good at. We will of course work our hardest to ensure our plans work. It's important to win against Myanmar because we want the top spot," added Irfan.
The fans are expected to come out in droves for Monday's gigantic clash against Myanmar and by the sounds of it, Irfan is more than ready to take on the responsibility and ensure that the fans go home happy.