CAPTAIN Fitri Saari was spotted way back in 2007 when he scored a brace to help Kelantan beat Singapore 2-1 in the National Under-14 tournament at the Pandamaran Stadium in Klang.Fitri scored off a penalty corner and then a marvellous field goal which brought the fans to their feet.
He was only 14, and the scouts had already placed a tick next to his name on the team list.
Fast forward to 2011 and the 18-year-old made his senior team debut by playing in the inaugural Asian Champions Trophy, the same year he handed Malaysia the Sultan of Johor Cup title by scoring a goal in the 3-2 win against Australia.
As a 20-year-old with 56 senior caps, he will lead Malaysia’s assault against New Zealand, South Africa and England.
“I grew up in the shadow of my more established brother Faizal (the best senior team striker in Malaysia today) and after he played in the 2009 Junior World Cup, I told myself that I can also make the grade.
“It was not easy, but I put in many extra hours outside of normal training and now the coach has placed his trust in me to wear the arm band.
“I am ready, the team are ready, and we can’t wait for the tournament to get underway,” said the pint-sized skipper.
Size does not matter for this skipper, as he has rubbed shoulders with the giants from Europe when playing in the World League Semi-finals in Johor Baru where Malaysia finished fifth and qualified for next year’s senior World Cup in the Netherlands.
“I have been pushed, elbowed, and sent flying in tackles against bigger European players but I always keep my eyes on the ball, and never give up a fair fight for possession,” said Fitri.
And his determination, and a strong heart, makes up for his size.
“My mission is to lead the team into the quarter-finals, and then plan for the next stage. I have 17 other players who are just as determined as me, and that makes my work on the pitch that much easier.”
Malaysia need to beat New Zealand at all cost today, for Fitri and his teammates to keep their sights on the quarter-finals.