KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia's Faiz Subri netted the FIFA Puskas Award for the best goal of 2016 on Monday (Jan 9), putting his name on the same list as past winners such as famed football stars Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar.
The 29-year-old garnered 59.46 per cent of votes by fans around the world to pip Brazil's Johnath Marlone Azevedo da Silva (22.86 per cent) and Venezuela's woman player Daniuska Rodriguez (10.01 per cent) to the award, first won by Ronaldo in 2009.
The win was for what has been described as a physics-defying swerving "knuckleball" goal against Pahang in the Malaysian Super League match on Feb 16, so spectacular that it catapulted him to international recognition.
The ball was heading towards one corner but ended up deceptively in the other, leaving the Pahang goalkeeper and football fans dumbfounded.
The Malaysian footballer was handed the award for his spellbinding free kick by Ronaldo at a glittering ceremony for The Best FIFA Football Awards 2016 in Zurich, bringing joy to millions of Malaysians thousands of kilometres away from the wintry conditions of the lakeside Swiss city.
Faiz also created history as the first Asian to be bestowed the gong named after Ferenc Puskas, the Hungarian football legend who enjoyed huge success with Real Madrid during the 1950s and 1960s as well as his national team.
"Honestly, it has 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," the Penang striker said after receiving the award.
The Kedah-born player called the win a career-defining moment for him and his family in an interview with FIFATV.
"I was a bit nervous at first but now I feel elated," he said, thanking Malaysians for their prayers of support as well as fans who voted for his goal.
Malaysia's Deputy Prime Minister Zahid Hamidi said the win had made Malaysia proud. "Congratulations Faiz Subri on winning the FIFA PUSKAS Award 2016," he wrote in a Twitter post. "Thank God, your hard work has paid off and brought glory for Malaysia."
Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) secretary-general Hamidin Mohd Amin also told Bernama that he believed Faiz's success would inspire other players to strive for excellence at the international arena.
"The win is not just a win for Mohd Faiz but an important achievement for other players to emulate," he said.
DON'T PLACE FAIZ ON "PEDESTAL": JOHOR CROWN PRINCE
Johor's crown prince Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim congratulated the Penang player but cautioned against putting him on a pedestal, saying his achievement is not a reflection of the state of the sport in the country.
Malaysian football, he stressed, is "still lagging behind".
"We must ask, where does the national football stand in terms of corruption, international standing and team management in comparison to teams like Thailand, Vietnam, Philippines or Indonesia that are on a constant and rapid incline," the crown prince said in a post on the Johor Southern Tigers Facebook page.
"So what have I got to be proud of? It's true that Faiz Subri's achievement is good, but when FAM stated that his achievement is a benchmark for Malaysian Football, I beg to differ. The reason being, he's only scored one goal, and apart from that, he has not been visible the entire season," said the football enthusiast.