Thursday, 5 March 2015

A look at Safuwan Baharudin through the years

Footballer Safuwan Baharudin made headlines last week when he became the first Singaporean to score a goal in the A-League, the top flight in Australian soccer.

The defender bulged the net to equalise for Melbourne City in his team's 3-1 win over Adelaide United. Plaudits flowed after that, including the Man of the Match award, congratulations from Melbourne's parent club Manchester City as well as selection in the A-League's Team of the Week.

Here is a look at Safuwan's rise from childhood to stardom Down Under.

Early promise

12-year-old Safuwan Baharudin. -- ST FILE

Safuwan's talent was clear when he was just a boy. Formerly from Woodlands Primary School, his skill as a striker ensured that he was selected to be part of the pioneer intake at the Singapore Sports School, which opened in 2004. He later skippered the Sports School team.

Safuwan Baharudin, (middle), age 13, from Singapore Sports School. -- PHOTO: SINGAPORE SPORTS SCHOOL

Apart from football, he also excelled as a pitcher in baseball and softball.

Moving back to move forward
Drafted into the National Football Academy, Safuwan was eventually promoted to the Young Lions team in 2009, which is essentially the national development squad competing in the S-League. He was just 18 years old.

As he started to sprout into a gangly teenager, Safuwan's height (1.81m) became an asset in defence, where coaches believe that his aerial ability is better suited.

Safuwan Baharudin won the Yeo's People Choice Award at the S-League Awards Night held at Grand Copthorne Waterfront Hotel on Nov 29, 2011. -- PHOTO: TNP FILE

But he never lost his scoring touch, finding the net nine times in 58 S-League appearances over three seasons.

SEA Games: Fazli Ayob (left) and Hariss Harun (No. 17) celebrating Singapore's first goal, scored by Safuwan Baharudin (right), during the football match on Dec 5, 2009.-- PHOTO: ST FILE

At the 2009 SEA Games in Vientiane, Laos, Safuwan scored twice as he helped Singapore to a bronze medal.
National call-up
Safuwan's rise continued in January 2010 when former national coach Raddy Avramovic handed him his first Singapore cap in a King's Cup game against hosts Thailand. Although the Lions lost 1-0, the Serb kept faith in the then 19-year-old.


Later that year, the youngster was given a starting place against hosts Vietnam at the Asean Football Federation Suzuki Cup. However, he slipped and gave away the only goal of the match as the Lions were eliminated in the group stage.

Shahdan Sulaiman (left) and Safuwan Baharudin (right) kissing the Suzuki Cup after Singapore won Thailand in the final match of the Asean Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup 2012 at Supachalasai Stadium in Bangkok on Dec 22, 2012. -- PHOTO: ST FILE

Two years after his heartbreak in Hanoi, Safuwan bounced back in style, establishing himself as a first-team regular in Singapore's victorious Suzuki Cup campaign. In the first leg of the final against Thailand, he played the full match at the Jalan Besar Stadium despite suffering a fever. The Lions eventually won 3-2 on aggregate.

LionsXII defender Safuwan Baharudin sending a stylish lob into the far corner of Perak goalkeeper Farizal Marlias’ goal for the late winner to revive the LionsXII's Malaysia Cup campaign at the Jalan Besar Stadium on Aug 31, 2013. -- PHOTO: TNP FILE

In 2013, the centre-back reinforced his reputation as one of Singapore's best footballers when he emerged as one of the pillars of the LionsXII's Malaysian Super League title run, scoring five goals in 26 games, including the crucial equaliser in the 2-2 draw against star-studded Johor Darul Takzim.

Off the pitch, Safuwan also had a memorable 2013 as he married air stewardess Alia Qistina.

LionsXII and national team star Safuwan Baharudin (left) takes a selfie with his wife, air stewardess Alia Qistina, at their wedding ceremony on April 13, 2014. -- PHOTO: SAFUWAN BAHARUDIN

And last year, he became the first sportsman to be named The Straits Times Athlete of the Year since the award's inauguration in 2008.

Singapore national footballer Safuwan Baharudin became the first male athlete to win the Straits Times Athlete of the Year award on Feb 28, 2014. -- ST PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI

Melbourne calling

In January, Australian A-League club Melbourne City gave Safuwan a 10-day trial during the side's training camp in Dubai.

Safuwan Baharudin at a recent 10-day trial with Melbourne City. -- PHOTO: FAS

The 23-year-old impressed and signed a three-month loan deal. He made his debut, playing in defensive midfield, in the Melbourne derby against Victory on Feb 7, which City lost 3-0.

Safuwan Baharudin (white jersey) made an assured, 60-minute debut as an A-League player in Melbourne City’s 3-0 defeat by city rivals Melbourne Victory on Feb 7, 2015. -- PHOTO: MELBOURNE CITY FC

But on Feb 27, Safuwan played a blinder as he helped City beat Adelaide United 3-1. Deployed at right-back, he arrived at the far post to ram home a corner to equalise, sparking a comeback win.

Safuwan Baharudin (left) is the toast of the Melbourne City fans after he scored against Adelaide United at Melbourne City’s AAMI Park home ground on Feb 27, 2015. -- PHOTO: MELBOURNE CITY FC

For his heroics, the Singaporean was named Man of the Match and Manchester City congratulated him on social media. On a lighter note, he is now featured on popular video game FIFA15 as a Melbourne player.


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