Football: Midfield rising star Izzdin Shafiq shapes up to nail spot for Lions against Afghanistan

Above: Midfielder Izzdin Shafiq cutting a lean and mean figure during training at the National Stadium last night. Left: Two years ago, the 1.76m-tall Izzdin was a little chubby but has now lost 9kg. He weighs 78kg.
Above: Midfielder Izzdin Shafiq cutting a lean and mean figure during training at the National Stadium last night.ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG
Above: Midfielder Izzdin Shafiq cutting a lean and mean figure during training at the National Stadium last night. Left: Two years ago, the 1.76m-tall Izzdin was a little chubby but has now lost 9kg. He weighs 78kg.
Above: Two years ago, the 1.76m-tall Izzdin was a little chubby but has now lost 9kg. He weighs 78kg.THE NEW PAPER FILE PHOTO

Good distribution and disciplined play make him key player with Hariss, Safuwan missing

While Hariss Harun and Safuwan Baharudin are firmly established as midfield stalwarts in the Singapore national football team, another player has quietly nailed down a starting spot alongside the duo during the Lions' 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign.

While he is neither a dynamic box-to-box player like Hariss, nor a scoring threat like Safuwan, Izzdin Shafiq has earned his starting spot with his astute distribution and tactical discipline.

With the two senior players suspended for tomorrow's Group E clash against Afghanistan at the National Stadium, the 25-year-old LionsXII man is expected to be the player to keep the Lions' attack ticking along.

Lions head coach Bernd Stange is keeping his cards close to his chest on his probable line-up, insisting that he will decide only "at the very last moment".

During yesterday evening's training session at the National Stadium, he tried matching the available midfielders in different combinations.

Izzdin, however, has been virtually a constant presence in the qualifiers. He played the full 90 minutes in the 4-0 win over Cambodia and the 0-0 draw in Japan, and lasted 77 minutes of the 1-0 defeat by Syria before making way for striker Khairul Nizam in a tactical switch.

No doubt, Stange rates him highly: "He is creative, he can shift the ball from left to right. He reads the game well. If there is something that needs improving, he can perhaps be a step faster.

"But in one or two years, I can see him having a great career with the national team."

Although Izzdin feels the heavy responsibility of running the Lions' engine room against Afghanistan without Hariss and Safuwan, he wants to impress in their absence.

He said: "They are key players. It's a big change for me, I need to work very hard to get to where I am.

"It's very hard to get this chance to play for the national team and when it comes, I just have to grab it with both hands."

The midfielder's newfound status marks a turnaround for a player who was previously noted for his burly physique.

Two years ago, the 1.76m-tall Izzdin tipped the scales at 87kg.

That led to him dining at a separate table from the Lions with national fitness coach Aleksandar Bozenko during centralised training for the 2013 SEA Games - the team rule for players who have more than 10 per cent body fat.

Izzdin could have felt humiliated but he turned that into a motivation to get out of what had been labelled as the "VIP table".

He started to eat smaller servings of rice and tucked in to more fruit and salads.

Outside of training sessions for club and country, he clocked extra hours in the gym to slim down his waistline, and also pounded extra miles on the track and pavement to beef up his stamina.

Now, he weighs 78kg and has earned the approval of the national team's coaching staff.

Izzdin gave a wide smile when reminded of the days when he was not in ideal shape, saying: "When you're overweight, you cannot run all over the pitch. That VIP table became a motivation for me.

"Whenever I wear the national jersey, I am representing my country and this is something I am really proud of."

In addition, whenever Izzdin pulls on the red shirt with the crescent moon and five stars these days, the fit is much better.

FIFA WORLD CUP QUALIFIERS
Asia, Gp E: Singapore v Afghanistan (Tomorrow, National Stadium, 8pm. Singtel TV Ch109, 7.30pm)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 07, 2015, with the headline 'IZZDIN SHAPES UP TO NAIL SPOT'. Print Edition | Subscribe