Safiq Rahim believes Set pieces require confidence Safiq Rahim: Set pieces require confidence © AFP
Safiq: Set pieces require confidence

Set-pieces specialists are an increasingly valuable commodity. However, while the majority of them dazzle the viewers with their intricate skills, Malaysia captain Safiq Rahim believes that confidence is as important as technique if you are to develop the magic touch.

"There are many other players who could have achieved that reputation due to their skills," the 27-year-old midfielder told after skippering his side to a runners-up finish in December's AFF Suzuki Cup. "But for me it is a bit different. The only difference between them and me is perhaps that I am a little more confident."

Few could, indeed, argue against the Johor Darul Takzim player, who finished as the regional showpiece’s top-scorer with six goals - five of which were scored from set pieces. He came up to score from the spot four times, before doubling the lead in the all-important final second leg against the Thailand with a sublimely taken free-kick. And his aplomb and expertise on set pieces was never better displayed than in the group showdown against hosts and four-time champions Singapore.

It was the closing group game, with the Harimau Malaya on the very verge of elimination, while the home side needed just a point to progress. Safee Sali put Malaysia ahead just past the hour-mark, but Khairul Amri restored parity for the Lions seven minutes from the end. With their hopes hanging by a whisker, Malaysia received a lifeline in the shape of a penalty kick three minutes into stoppage-time.

All eyes were on Rahim but the diminutive player, having opened his account in a 3-3 loss to Thailand, kept his cool to send the goalkeeper the wrong way and silence the 50,000-strong home crowd. With the hosts still stunned, Indra Putra sealed the 3-1 win as Malaysia advanced to the last four at Singapore's expense in dramatic fashion.

"I was pleased with my performance in the competition," Rahim said, "I believe that I have grown as a player. I am proud of our team for what we achieved in this campaign, especially as we had only been given a short time to prepare in the build-up."

The Suzuki Cup was not, however, the first occasion on which Rahim had showcased his consummate skills. In a friendly between a Malaysia XI side and Liverpool back in 2011, he stunned the English Premiership giants by equalising with a spectacular free-kick on the stroke of half-time. Liverpool would go on to win by 6-3, but Rahim caught the eyes of scouts who offered him a three-week trial at Cardiff City.

Rahim's dream of becoming the first Malaysian to play in England didn't come true, but the ambitious player continued to make progress on the domestic and regional fronts. He secured his first Malaysian Super League title with Selangor, before winning the national championship again last season - this time with Johor Darul Takzim. At international level, having featured for Malaysia in the 2010 and 2012 editions of the AFF Suzuki Cup, Rahim established his talismanic place in the team by steering his side to the final in the last campaign.

"It was a fantastic experience for me," he continued, reflecting on their unlikely progression to the final. "There were strong teams who posed big challenges and threats for us [en route to the final] but we went through. Of course there were lessons we learned. We are aware now that we should develop not only as individuals, but also as a team. We should spend more time training and playing together so that we can be strong as a unit."

Midfield maestro

Set pieces are by no means Rahim's only speciality. He proved to be the team’s instigator in attacking, providing leadership and inspiration as they defied the odds to storm into the final. In the match against Singapore, he was statistically the player with the most passes and touches on the ball. It came as no surprise that the tournament’s top scorer an also bagged the Most Valuable Player award.

"To me, every player in the team has his own strengths," he said, explaining the role he played. "As a midfielder, my strengths are what I am capable of when I serve the ball to the forwards."

Malaysia may have been on the receiving end of a narrow 4-3 aggregate defeat to Thailand in the recent AFF Suzuki Cup final. But Rahim, who scored three times against the Thais, including completing a brace in the final, believes that they can reverse this outcome when the teams next meet.

“I believe that if we had the opportunity once again, Malaysia would win,” he stated firmly. “After all, now we know their strengths and weaknesses.”

Safiq Rahim believes Set pieces require confidence Reviewed by admin Ucop on 6:02 AM Rating: 5

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