GEORGE TOWN, Malaysia — With one stunning goal, Faiz Subri has given himself the chance to put his name beside the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and James Rodriguez on the honor roll for Puskas Award winners.
The Penang player is on a shortlist of three to pick up the FIFA prize, which came into existence in 2009, for the most beautiful goal of 2016. The winner will be announced next week in Zurich.
“It is exciting to be the first Malaysian to be nominated,” Faiz told The Associated Press before leaving for Switzerland. “Many great players have won the prize before and it is a great honor for me just to have a chance to win.”
His free kick in a Malaysia Super League game against Pahang last February gained global attention because of its wild swerve and dip from a distance of 32 meters. It was dubbed ‘The Knuckleball’ free kick after a kind of baseball pitch. In football terms, it means the ball is hit with little or no spin and moves unpredictably.
“It was a great feeling to see it go in,” Faiz added. “I had tried in training, but to do it in a game was different.”
Pahang goalkeeper Nasril Nourdin insisted earlier this week that there was nothing he could do to stop the shot. “It was unbelievable,” he told Bernama, Malaysia’s national news agency.
“I had positioned myself well to face the free kick but at as soon as the kick was in motion, I was completely deceived as the ball swerved in front of me, and was in the net before I could do anything.”
The other contenders for the award are Brazil’s Marlone, for his strike in the Copa Libertadores, and Daniuska Rodriguez, for her goal in South America’s Under-17 Women’s Championship.
“My family will be there and I hope to win for them but also for Penang and for the whole of Malaysia to make the fans happy,” Faiz said. “There has not been much to smile about for Malaysian fans recently.”
Malaysia, which qualified for the 1980 Olympics only to boycott the Moscow Games, has dropped to No. 161 in FIFA’s rankings. In 2015, the national team lost 10-0 to the United Arab Emirates and was beaten 6-0 by Oman and twice by Palestine.
Last November, Malaysia exited the AFF Suzuki Cup, Southeast Asia’s biennial tournament, at the group stage after losses to Vietnam and Myanmar.
With some clubs in the Malaysia Super League struggling financially ahead of the coming season, the outlook remains grim. So the prospect of the Puskas Award coming to the country has been greeted with excitement.
“It would be good for Malaysian football if Faiz can win this prize,” Ashley Westwood, head coach at Penang, told the AP. “It would also be good for the club. We wish him well and then will welcome him back to prepare for the new season.”
The 29-year-old Faiz still has not given up hopes of playing in Europe, although his dream of signing for English Premier League giant Manchester United, where coach Westwood started his career, seems unlikely.
“I want to inspire young Malaysians. If they see me win the prize then they will believe they can do the same as me,” Faiz said. “I want to show them that anything is possible in football.”
Story: John Duerden