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Rising stars – Safiq Rahim

(Click here to watch our recent interview with Safiq Rahim)

Continuing our series on the young stars to watch at the 2012 AFF Suzuki Cup, we take a look at Malaysia midfielder Safiq Rahim, who became the youngest captain to lift the trophy two years ago.

When Malaysia team skipper Aidil Zafuan suffered an anterior cruciate ligament injury just a month before the 2010 AFF Suzuki Cup, coach K. Rajagobal decided to hand the captain’s armband to midfielder Safiq Rahim.

The attacking midfielder had been one of the linchpins in the Malaysia under-23 side coached by Rajagobal that had won the South-East Asian Games football gold medal a year earlier.

And with the Malaysia coach opting for a youthful side for the AFF Suzuki Cup, he had no qualms about asking the 23-year-old to lead out his side at the tournament.

"He has got character and mental attitude – it is something I have seen in him since he first played in my team at the age of 17," explains Rajagobal.

"When I didn’t have Aidil around for that AFF Suzuki Cup, I felt that Safiq was the right person for me to deal with although there were other players in the squad more senior to him."

Things did not begin well at that tournament for Safiq and his teammates as they were hammered 5-1 by Indonesia in their opening match. But as the tournament progressed, the results got better as Safiq grew in his role.

By the time Malaysia met Indonesia again in the final, they were full of confidence and swept aside the Garuda 3-0 in the first leg in Kuala Lumpur en route to a 4-2 aggregate triumph.

It was the Tigers’ first-ever triumph in the competition and it also made Safiq the youngest captain to lift the trophy.

"Winning the Suzuki Cup was something very special for me. It was my finest ever achievement as a player – even better than winning the SEA Games gold," he says to

"Malaysia had never won the competition before so it was a special feeling for me and my team, especially as we won the final against Indonesia after losing to them by a big margin in our first game.

"We wanted to improve and to show our pride in front of the Malaysian crowd and we proved that we could do it."

Born in Kuala Selangor in July 1987, Safiq’s talent was obvious from a young age. By the age of 16 he was attending the Bukit Jalil Sports School in Kuala Lumpur and representing his country at Under-20 level.

He went on to establish himself in the Under-23 side and made his senior international debut as a 19-year-old when he came on as a substitute in an Asean Football Championship match against Myanmar in early 2007.

Rajagobal had already worked with Safiq in the Under-20 team and when he took charge of the Under-23s in 2009 during the build-up to the SEA Games, he took him under his wing once again.

Besides being a commanding presence in midfield, Safiq is also a dead-ball specialist who regularly finds the net with spectacular free-kicks from the edge of the box for Malaysia and his Super League club, Selangor.

In making him the captain of his team in 2010, Rajagobal also recognised his ability as a leader on the pitch.

"I have worked with Safiq for so long so I know his type of performance," says the Malaysia coach.

"The attribute that I like about him most is that when the odds are down, he shows his character and his fighting ability and he will try to do something to spark the team.

"Since he became my captain, I feel that he has performed very well in his role."

His attributes as a player and a leader are also well recognised by his national teammates.

"He controls midfield well and he scores some nice goals as well," says striker Safee Sali. "But he offers us a lot more than that because he is also a good captain and I believe he can raise the team at the right time."

Despite the pressure of defending their title this year, Safiq is not lacking in confidence as he prepares to lead Malaysia into battle once again at the AFF Suzuki Cup.

"Sure there is a lot of pressure on us as champions but I think that since we are playing at home, we have more motivation and energy to defend our trophy," he says.

"We will do the same thing that we did before and push hard and give our 100% so that we can try to win the title again.

"In 2010, I was captain of a young team but now we are more experienced and we are stronger together. We know what we have to do and we will work hard to achieve a victory again."