Zulfahmi ready to move back into defence for LionsXII in MSL
Despite his strong showing in midfield for Singapore on international duty this week, Zulfahmi Arifin is willing to drop back into defence for LionsXII when the Malaysian Super League (MSL) resumes on Saturday evening.
After the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games and World Cup qualifiers' break, the Singaporean outfit return to action against struggling ATM FA at the Jalan Besar Stadium on Saturday.
Zulfahmi is one of the contingent of LionsXII players who helped stun Asian football with a 0-0 draw against Japan in Saitama on Tuesday night.
LionsXII are unbeaten against ATM in the league, recording 3-1 and 2-1 victories at home over the past two seasons, and securing a pair of 1-0 away wins at Selayang Stadium, near Kuala Lumpur.
With the Courts Young Lions' quartet of Al-Qaasimy Rahman, Shakir Hamzah, Shahfiq Ghani and Safirul Sulaiman joining up with the squad, head coach Fandi Ahmad has more options in defence, which could see Zulfahmi returning to his more accustomed central midfield role.
"I've always wanted to return to midfield," explained the talented left-footer. "But for now, it is all about the team first and wherever abang Fandi needs me to play, I will give it my all. But deep down inside, I want to create chances and orchestrate the team's play higher up the pitch."
Although ATM seem to have found their groove after a dismal first half of the season, they are languishing in the relegation zone, in 11th spot in the 12-team league. However, the side now coached by Shahrin Abdul Majid after B. Sathianathan's sacking in April, will be only one point behind LionsXII should they win at Jalan Besar Stadium.
Malaysian international star striker Norshahrul Idlan Talaha left ATM to join Terengganu FA but that is the only significant team change under new boss Shahrin.
The foreign contingent of Jerry Palacios, Mario Karlovic, Obinna Nwaneri and Abdulafees Abdulsalam began to jell just before the international break. ATM drew 1-1 against Sime Darby before closing the first half of the season with a stunning 3-1 home win against high-flyers PDRM.
Zulfahmi, who has faced the Gladiators on many occasions, isn't worried about ATM's resurgence and urges his teammates to focus on their own games instead.
He said: "They are a very good side with experienced players like Palacios and Obinna. But for us, we just need to concentrate on our own preparations and game plan instead of worrying about the opponents. The home crowd support at Jalan Besar will also be an advantage for us. I hope the supporters will come down and give us the boost from the stands."
Having won the Malaysia FA Cup with a 3-1 win over Kelantan FA in the final last month, fans are expecting LionsXII to climb up the league table from their current eighth position. It is something that Zulfahmi, himself, is desperate to see.
He said: "Our achievements (in the FA Cup and Japan game) really makes a player's confidence go up. As players, having confidence when you're doing well plays an important role. This confidence will boost our team to hopefully slowly climb up the table quietly.
"We are not far away from the top though, and we just need to focus one game at a time, get the three points and not think about other teams. My personal target is for us to finish as high up as possible because we have improved as a team since last season and we must now build on our FA Cup success and keep driving forward."
This will be the LionsXII's first of three games in seven days. They travel to Selayang Stadium on Tuesday to face ATM again before taking on PDRM next Friday.