Malaysian football fans were elated Tuesday to wake up to the news that their countryman had won FIFA’s goal of the year award for his extraordinary swerving free-kick.
Midfielder Mohamad Faiz Subri’s cracker for Penang state in the Malaysian Super League in February, reminiscent of the swerving thunderbolt by Brazil’s Roberto Carlos against France in 1997, received almost 60 percent of the global vote on the FIFA website.
Dressed in a tuxedo, the footballer thanked his coach, team and his family as he accepted the accolade at the star-studded FIFA awards ceremony in Zurich on Monday night, the first Asian to win the famous Puskas Award.
“Honestly, it never crossed my mind that I would arrive at this level and be able to stand tall among world class footballers in this amazing place,” he said.
There was a light-hearted moment when the player fumbled with his phone on stage as he searching for his speech.
Co-host Hollywood star Eva Longoria playfully quipped: “He’s checking his text” to laughter from the crowd.
On Instagram, Faiz posted a picture of himself together with Manchester United legend Alex Ferguson and tweeted another with Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo.
Malaysian fans took to Twitter to congratulate Faiz and said he had made the country proud. Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak led the tributes.
“Congratulations… your success in winning the award will bring inspiration to Malaysian footballers,” he wrote on his Facebook page.
Footage of the 29-year-old’s extraordinary goal from 35 metres went viral last year, making him a sensation in football-crazy Malaysia.
Ten FIFA Puskas Award 2016 finalists, chosen from thousands of goals scored around the world between September 2015 and September 2016, were revealed in November.
A month later, FIFA announced that Brazil’s Marlone and Venezuela’s woman footballer Stephanie Roche were joining Faiz on the three-goal shortlist, with the Malaysian’s outrageous free-kick garnering more votes than the other two goals put together.