Syafiq Ahmad hungry for Malaysia goals in SEA Games opener
Kedah's rising star Syafiq Ahmad is fired up to bang in the goals when the Malaysia open their Southeast Asian (SEA) Games campaign against Brunei at Shah Alam Stadium on Monday.
The forward has been in scoring touch for both club and country this season, with four goals in 10 matches, despite making mostly cameo appearances.
Syafiq, who scored the opener in the 3-0 win against Indonesia in the AFC U23 Championship qualifiers, is bent on taking that form to the biennial multi-sport showcase on home soil.
"The competition for strikers is quite tough, especially with the return of Safawi [Rasid] and S. Kumaahran to the team," Syafiq told ESPN FC.
"But I believe I have a lot to offer if I make the final 20-man squad. I am here to make an impact, and I am in the right frame of mind to score goals."
Malaysia under-22 coach Datuk Ong Kim Swee will cut seven players from his 27-man squad on Saturday, but Syafiq can rest well knowing his place is all but sealed.
Blessed with a strong aerial presence, the Penang-born attacker is a lively presence in the final third as he loves playing off the shoulder of the last man.
Syafiq will offer Malaysia a variety of options against Brunei should he be selected for the Group A match.
But while he says three points is mandatory for a strong start, Brunei should not be taken lightly.
"They are an improving team, with a lot of fast players who can catch us if we are not careful. At the AFC qualifiers, they only fell to a 2-0 defeat to Australia [with Singapore losing 7-0 to the same opponents]. They can be hard to break down, so we must take our chances," Syafiq said.
Ong has opted for closed-door training sessions for the final part of the national camp to avoid any disruptions.
After winning in 2011 with a strong squad containing the likes of Baddrol Bakhtiar and Mahali Jasuli, Malaysia disappointed in the next two editions.
They could only finish fourth in 2013, and did not even make it out of the group at the 2015 tournament in Singapore.
But hopes are high that Ong will be able to rekindle the same magic of 2011, especially after guiding the team to next year's AFC U23 Championship in China after coming through July's qualifiers in Bangkok.
After Brunei, Malaysia will play Singapore (Aug. 16), Myanmar (Aug. 21) and Laos (Aug. 23), with all their matches at Shah Alam Stadium.
Nicolas Anil is a former Malay Mail and Goal.com Malaysia editor/writer who appears on BFM Radio as a football analyst. Twitter: @nicolas_anil.