Football: A look at Safuwan Baharudin through the years

Footballer Safuwan Baharudin made headlines last week when he became the first Singaporean to score a goal in the A-League, the top flight in Australian soccer. -- PHOTO: MELBOURNE CITY FC
Footballer Safuwan Baharudin made headlines last week when he became the first Singaporean to score a goal in the A-League, the top flight in Australian soccer. -- PHOTO: MELBOURNE CITY FC

Footballer Safuwan Baharudin made headlines last week when he became the first Singaporean to score a goal in the A-League, the top flight in Australian soccer.

The defender bulged the net to equalise for Melbourne City in his team's 3-1 win over Adelaide United. Plaudits flowed after that, including the Man of the Match award, congratulations from Melbourne's parent club Manchester City as well as selection in the A-League's Team of the Week.

Here is a look at Safuwan's rise from childhood to stardom Down Under.

Early promise

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Safuwan's talent was clear when he was just a boy. Formerly from Woodlands Primary School, his skill as a striker ensured that he was selected to be part of the pioneer intake at the Singapore Sports School, which opened in 2004. He later skippered the Sports School team.

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Apart from football, he also excelled as a pitcher in baseball and softball.

Moving back to move forward

Drafted into the National Football Academy, Safuwan was eventually promoted to the Young Lions team in 2009, which is essentially the national development squad competing in the S-League. He was just 18 years old.

As he started to sprout into a gangly teenager, Safuwan's height (1.81m) became an asset in defence, where coaches believe that his aerial ability is better suited.

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But he never lost his scoring touch, finding the net nine times in 58 S-League appearances over three seasons.

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At the 2009 SEA Games in Vientiane, Laos, Safuwan scored twice as he helped Singapore to a bronze medal.

National call-up

Safuwan's rise continued in January 2010 when former national coach Raddy Avramovic handed him his first Singapore cap in a King's Cup game against hosts Thailand. Although the Lions lost 1-0, the Serb kept faith in the then 19-year-old.

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Later that year, the youngster was given a starting place against hosts Vietnam at the Asean Football Federation Suzuki Cup. However, he slipped and gave away the only goal of the match as the Lions were eliminated in the group stage.

Success

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Two years after his heartbreak in Hanoi, Safuwan bounced back in style, establishing himself as a first-team regular in Singapore's victorious Suzuki Cup campaign. In the first leg of the final against Thailand, he played the full match at the Jalan Besar Stadium despite suffering a fever. The Lions eventually won 3-2 on aggregate.

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In 2013, the centre-back reinforced his reputation as one of Singapore's best footballers when he emerged as one of the pillars of the LionsXII's Malaysian Super League title run, scoring five goals in 26 games, including the crucial equaliser in the 2-2 draw against star-studded Johor Darul Takzim.

Off the pitch, Safuwan also had a memorable 2013 as he married air stewardess Alia Qistina.

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And last year, he became the first sportsman to be named The Straits Times Athlete of the Year since the award's inauguration in 2008.

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Melbourne calling

In January, Australian A-League club Melbourne City gave Safuwan a 10-day trial during the side's training camp in Dubai.

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The 23-year-old impressed and signed a three-month loan deal. He made his debut, playing in defensive midfield, in the Melbourne derby against Victory on Feb 7, which City lost 3-0.

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But on Feb 27, Safuwan played a blinder as he helped City beat Adelaide United 3-1. Deployed at right-back, he arrived at the far post to ram home a corner to equalise, sparking a comeback win.

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For his heroics, the Singaporean was named Man of the Match and Manchester City congratulated him on social media. On a lighter note, he is now featured on popular video game Fifa 15 as a Melbourne player.