Norshahrul keen to solve Malaysia striker problems for AFF Suzuki Cup
2010 AFF Suzuki Cup winner Norshahrul Idlan Talaha is ready to answer Malaysia's rallying call for striking solutions after national coach Datuk Ong Kim Swee turned to the experienced forward ahead of the Causeway Challenge against Singapore on Oct. 7.
Norshahrul struck a deadly partnership with Safee Sali in the 2010 edition of the regional showcase to inspire the Harimau Malaysia to their first ever title at the cavernous Gelora Bung Karno Stadium in Indonesia.
Malaysia beat the Merah Putih 4-3 to complete a fairytale run in the competition after a poor start to that campaign. He also played in the 2014 tournament as Malaysia made the final before losing narrowly to Thailand over two legs, and was selected in 2012 as well.
Once again, fans will look towards the former Johor Darul Ta'zim (JDT) hot shot, with the national team facing a dearth of quality local strikers.
"I don't think things have changed much since the last AFF Cup. Yes, we have a new coach and a breed of young players, but other nations such as Thailand and Philippines also have similar blend of youth and experience in their squad," Norshahrul told ESPN FC.
"It's a big honour for me to receive this call up, and my focus is now to work my way back to the international level of fitness, which is higher than club football."
The 30-year-old cut short his family holiday in Thailand to answer Ong's call-up, after the JDT II trio Irfan Fazail, Darren Lok and Zaquan Adha were ordered to return home by their club owner last week.
Despite the ongoing club versus country row involving his former employers, the Terengganu forward believes that Malaysia are capable of making up ground on the international scene.
"We have to work hard for each other as a team. If we can perform collectively as a squad, teams will find it difficult to penetrate us in any department. It is important we get some results before the AFF Cup begins," said Norshahrul, who expects Singapore to prove a first tough test at their National Stadium on Friday.
"I haven't been following their players since the LionsXII exited our league, but their pattern of play shouldn't have changed much. They will prove feisty opponents for us, but we will be ready to pass that test."
Doing well in national colours would also play a crucial factor for the Besut-born attacker to save his home state from relegation, as bottom-placed Terengganu face a do-or-die relegation fight against Penang in the league on Oct. 22.
He added: "I am extra motivated after getting this call up. If we can win against Singapore, it will be the perfect tonic for me to help Terengganu stay in the league as well."
After Singapore, Malaysia will host Afghanistan in another friendly at Shah Alam Stadium on Oct. 11.
Nicolas Anil is a former Malay Mail and Goal.com Malaysia editor/writer who appears on BFM Radio as a football analyst. Twitter: @nicolas_anil.