Thursday, July 21, 2011

Buildup to Causeway Derby: Mustafic's eye firmly on Safiq - ST (21 Jul)

By Lee Min Kok (ST)

THE unenviable task of stifling Malaysia's midfield will likely fall to a Lion who has filled the defensive role with distinction over the last five years.

And midfield enforcer Mustafic Fahrudin - back in Singapore after a two-year spell in the Indonesia Super League (ISL) - has warned that it is Tigers' captain Safiq Rahim whom his teammates will have to watch closely during Saturday's clash with their Causeway rivals.

He said: 'Safiq's free kicks are superb. If not for him scoring twice in the first round, we would have been playing Chinese Taipei, not Malaysia, this Saturday.

'We will try not to concede any free kicks around the penalty area, because he is deadly in those situations.'

Safiq, 24, scored from a free kick in both legs of the 2014 World Cup qualifier against the Taiwanese, ensuring that the Tigers scraped through on away goals (aggregate 4-4).

He also enhanced his reputation as a man for the big occasion, netting a superb curling effort from 20m against English giants Liverpool last Saturday.

Set-piece prowess aside, the Selangor man, who is just 1.67m-tall, is expected to provide the ammunition for star striker Safee Sali.

But Safiq is only one weapon in the Malaysians' midfield arsenal, pointed out the Serbia-born Mustafic.

'Their wing-men are very fast, very skilful and we will need to find a way to stop them. I will try my best to protect the back four,' he added.

Call him the midfield destroyer, water carrier or hatchetman - each name less glamorous than the last - for the Lions, but the 'Claude Makelele' role (named after the hard-tackling Frenchman) is one of the most under-rated in modern football.

Against Chinese Taipei on Monday, coach Raddy Avramovic deployed his former compatriot in his favoured position, giving fellow midfielders Hariss Harun and Shahdan Sulaiman the licence to roam forward.

But Mustafic, 30, whose wife recently gave birth to their second child, insists that nothing gives him more satisfaction than snapping at opponents' heels and launching into bone-crunching tackles.

'It (the role) suits me well, I feel comfortable playing there and best of all, it allows my teammates the freedom to attack,' he said.

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