BY ZULHILMI ZAINAL Follow on Twitter
Malaysia right back Syahmi Safari has been one of the standout performers for Tan Cheng Hoe's squad in the recently-concluded 2018 AFF Championship, despite having started 2018 as a new addition to the Malaysia senior squad.
Except for the first leg final match against Vietnam during which he was suspended, the 20-year old defender played every second of Malaysia's eight matches, netting one goal and an assist.
The 20-year old player too is impressed with what he has been able to show in his first ever appearance in the regional competition.
"I honestly think my performance in the tournament has been wonderful, as I had not expected to be able to even make the first eleven. When the provisional squad was announced, there were Azrif [Nasrulhaq] and Azhan (Amirul Azhan Aznan), who are more experienced than I am. But praise Allah, I made the cut and the coach believed in me
"And I've also been surprised with the fact that I've been able to adapt to and keep up with the faster pace of international matches," explained the Selangor man when met by Goal on Sunday.
He however is also glad of one harsh lesson he picked up, on a night that he very nearly turned from hero to zero.
In their second leg semi-final match against Thailand, Syahmi scored a wonder goal to equalise for the Harimau Malaya, his first ever senior international goal, but later conceded a handball and a penalty in the dying moments of the match. With the match tied at 2-2 on aggregate, a late Thailand goal would send the defending champions through to the final, but Adisak Kraisorn failed to convert his spot kick and Malaysia advanced instead. Syahmi was given his second yellow card and a sending off for the offence, and missed their first leg final against Vietnam.
"That match against Thailand taught me a bitter lesson. On the same night, I got to help the team and also almost broke the hearts of my teammates and Malaysians.
"Fortunately it went the way it did, and the coaching staff and players were very forgiving towards me. They said that despite what happened, that was my best performance for Malaysia and I must never give up. Maybe if the ball hadn't struck my arm, it would have gone in!
According to him, it is this instinct to look out for each other among the players that will carry them through in the future.
"There's harmony in the squad that has made us stronger," he said. "Tan has been with the team for a relatively short time, and despite this we are showing potential to reach the next Asian Cup."
"Observers have praised how he has been able to transform the way the team plays, instill confidence in the squad, to take on opponents who are set to appear on the continental stage (Thailand and Vietnam)."
When suggested by Goal to take on a more attacking role in the squad in the future, Syahmi however responded that he is actually comfortable leaving his options open.
On top of his first ever Malaysia goal, in 2018 he has scored one goal for Malaysia U-23, and six goals for his club. He has often been fielded as a winger for the Red Giants.
"I will leave this all up to the coaches I'm playing for. At Selangor we have a new boss, he'll decide where I'll be.
"I will definitely give my best, while I am confident of playing in more than one position without any amount of awkwardness," he noted.
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