WAY CLEAR: Young Tigers A midfielder poised for national call up to replace Gurusamy
AN unfortunate injury to K. Gurusamy has cleared the way for youngster Gary Steven Robbat to stake a claim in the national team ahead of the AFF Suzuki Cup later this year.
With Selangor midfielder Gurusamy sidelined for a significant period after suffering an anterior cruciate ligament injury, national coach K. Rajagobal is searching for a suitable man to partner Safiq Rahim in midfield.
Gary, 19, has emerged as the most likely candidate ahead of Kedah's Amar Rohidan and Kelantan's Shakir Shaari after impressing in the 2-1 defeat to Arsenal on Tuesday when he held his own against the likes of Abou Diaby and Alex Song.
The Young Tigers A midfielder, who replaced an ineffective Shakir in the 35th minute, was a constant irritant to the Arsenal forwards and midfielders, harrying and snapping at their heels whenever they were in possession.
His performance drew praise from Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, whose side trailed to an Azmi Muslim first-half strike before scoring twice in the final three minutes through Thomas Eisfeld and Chuks Aneke.
"I started with Shakir for tactical reasons and decided to take him off as just days earlier he had played for Kelantan against QPR," said Rajagobal after the game at the National Stadium in Bukit Jalil.
"I brought in Gary and he did well in midfield. When I was talking to Arsene before the game , I said I like this player. He asked why I wasn't starting him but I told him it was because of tactical reasons.
"Gary distributed the ball well and used his physique even though he is still young. He's been with me from the start since my time in charge of Harimau Muda (Young Tigers).
"I know this boy well and I think he has a bright future. It's good because we lost Gurusamy to injury, and he's the one who normally plays alongside the captain (Safiq Rahim). Gary showed he has potential."
Gary was not the only Malaysian who stood out as goalkeeper Farizal Marlias, midfielder S. Kunanlan, Safiq and defender Aidil Zafuan Radzak also caught Wenger's eye.
Striker Safee Sali, however, had a subdued game and tended to go on his own too often though he did have a splendid chance in the second half when he broke through and cut into the box only to shoot tamely at Arsenal goalkeeper Vito Mannone.
Rajagobal also absolved Rozaimi Abdul Rahman of blame for Arsenal's equaliser after the Sabah forward was placed in an unaccustomed leftback role when Azmi went off injured.
"I had no choice because we had no leftback other than Azmi. Mahalli (Jasuli) went into the right back position and all the other defenders had come off. So I had to put Rozaimi there because we had no more natural leftbacks since I had sent Asraruddin (Putra Omar) back (due to injury)," said Rajagobal.
The national team will next face English Premier League champions Manchester City on Monday and Rajagobal plans to field the same set of players.
"I will have to look at the condition of the players and then we will decide who will play," said Rajagobal, who had left goalkeeper Norazlan Razali, winger Yong Kuong Yong and defenders Fadhli Shas and Faizal Muhammad on the bench against Arsenal.