HAFIZUDDIN Othman, 22, earned his first cap when Malaysia beat South Africa 2-1, and the young goalkeeper earned praise from many for his brave performance in his Azlan Shah Cup debut in Ipoh on Thursday.
And goalkeeper's coach M. Nadarajan, who has been training him since his junior days, was also full of praise for this prodige.
"Hafiz did exceptionally well in the Junior World Cup (where Malaysia finished fourth) and his debut with the senior side was also laudable as he did not freeze and played bravely when under pressure from the South African strikers. I believe he has a very bright future," said Nadarajan.
Hafizuddin was shoved into the limelight when No 1 goalkeeper S. Kumar picked up an injury while playing in the Hockey India League, while No 2 Roslan Jamaluddin is also on the croak list.
"I believe Hafiz can be a good replacement for Kumar and Roslan when both of them decided to retire from the sport, it might take more than five years as both the senior goalkeepers are also in top flight now, but Hafiz will be a good back-up in the making," said Nadarajan.
The other goalkeeper in Ipoh for the Azlan Shah Cup is Hazrul Faiz Sobri, but he has yet to earn a cap.
"Hafiz's positioning as well as his ability to judge the ball was good against South Africa, and the first goal he let in went past the postman, while the second should have been stopped by him, but that sometimes happens in a game," said Nadarajan.
Both the South African penalty corner goals were off low pushes which sounded the board, and more experienced postmen like Razie Rahim and first runner Baljit Singh might have been able to judge the ball better. But both of them are on the injured list, and young players took over their jobs.
Today is a rest day, and Malaysia play their most crucil match tomorrow against Asian Games champions South Korea.
Skipper Azlan Misron knows he will have his hands full, but will be gunning for a victory: "Well you can say that we need to beat South Korea at all cost because it will open our passage into the final a bit wider. But having said that, it will not be an easy match, as the Koreans have brought a very experienced side," said Azlan.
The least number of caps on the Korean team list is 59, while 11 of them have caps ranging from 100 over to over 200.
But if Hafizuddin and his six other mates, who are making their Azlan Shah Cup debut, play to their capabilities, the Koreans can be stunned.
The only worry is the ability to score off penalty corners, as from the 12 that Malaysian won against South Africa, 11 were wasted.
South Korean coach Shin Seok Kyo is wary of the Malaysian youth brigade: "I notice may new faces in the Malaysian team, but still, they are very fast and have wonderful individual skills. But ince our target is to play in the final, it is very important for us to win this match on Sunday."
P W D L F A Pts
AUSTRALIA 1 1 0 0 7 0 3
S KOREA 1 1 0 0 3 0 3
MALAYSIA 1 1 0 0 3 2 3
CHINA 2 1 0 1 5 7 3
S AFRICA 2 0 0 2 2 8 0
CANADA 1 0 0 1 0 3 0
March 16: Australia v Canada (6pm), South Korea v Malaysia (8pm).
March 17: South Africa v Australia (4pm), China v South Korea (6pm), Malaysia v Canada (8pm).
March 18: REST DAY.
March 19: Canada v South Africa (6pm), Malaysia v China (8pm).
March 20: Canada v China (6pm), South Korea v Australia (8pm).
March 21: REST DAY.
March 22: Australia v Malaysia (6pm), South Africa v South Korea (8pm).