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Future looks bright for Irfan

JAKARTA: The year may not have started well for Irfan Bachdim but the Dutch-born striker looks set to end it on a high.

In January, Irfan suddenly found himself without a job after his club in the Netherlands went bankrupt and were kicked out of the league.

But the 22-year-old now finds himself the footballing idol of an adoring nation after playing a big role in Indonesia's 5-1 thumping of Malaysia in their Suzuki Cup Group A opener on Wednesday.

It may have been his first experience of playing in front of Indonesia's raucous fans at the Gelora Bung Karno Stadium but Irfan showed the poise of a veteran with an energetic performance that saw him create his side's opening goal and round off a memorable evening with his first international strike.

For a player facing an uncertain future just 12 months ago, it was the stuff of dreams.

"It has been a dream of mine to play for the national team. Standing on the pitch, seeing the crowd and then the national anthem starts, it really gave me goosebumps and it felt electric," he told

"I knew it would be something like that because I knew about the Indonesian crowd. I have played in front of a big crowd before in the first division in Holland. But what I saw yesterday was more amazing than what I had experienced before.

"Scoring the goal at the end really made me happy. At 5-1 it was not a very important goal but it was a nice way to finish off a memorable evening.

Born in Amsterdam to an Indonesian father and Dutch mother, Irfan has spent almost his entire life in the Netherlands, developing his football skills at the famous Ajax academy and top flight club FC Utrecht.

He made his professional debut at Utrecht in 2008 but after being released by the club last year, he dropped a division to sign for HFC Haarlem, where he got a chance to play regular first team football.

He played in more than a dozen games during the first half of the season but things turned sour when the club went bankrupt at the start of this year and were expelled from the league.

Irfan joined a third division side after Haarlem's demise but his fortunes took a significant turn when he was invited to play in benefit games in Indonesia for Arema founder "Lucky" Acub Zaenal and former Persebaya coach Rusdy Bahalwan.

Having had the opportunity to play for Indonesia's Under-23 side during a training camp in the Netherlands in 2007, he jumped at the opportunity and caught the attention of Indonesian Super League side Persema Malang with his performances in the two games.

"I was invited to Indonesia to play in a couple of benefit games in Malang and Surabaya," explained Irfan. "I really wanted to be there and after those two games, I was approached by Persema Malang who offered me an opportunity to play there.

"I said yes and after that, everything went very quickly. After just three months, I was in the national team!

"It's all gone very fast but I'm very happy now that I'm in Indonesia because it has always been my dream to play for the national team," added Irfan, who opted to keep his Indonesian passport instead of his Dutch one when he turned 21.

"I'm not concerned about going back to Holland. I'm focussed on trying to help Indonesia to win this tournament and I'm focussed on my club Persema."

Despite reaching the final three times, Indonesia have yet to win the AFF Suzuki Cup. But Irfan is confident that this could finally be their year.

"I think that we have a very talented team now. We have players with a lot of experience like Bambang (Pamungkas) and (Christian) Gonzales and we also have great players for the future like Yongky (Aribowo) and Johan (Juansyah).

"It's football so you never know what is going to happen. We won last night and we had a great game but the other teams like Thailand, Laos and Vietnam have seen what we can do and they can prepare well for us.

"But we've down well so far and I have faith that we can go far."