Thriving in Bangalore weather, braving Gujarat's heat: Malaysian goalie Azurin takes home India experience
Nurul Azurin Mazlan of Misaka United was the only goalkeeper to keep a clean sheet against Gokulam Kerala in the Indian Women's League 2023 season.
The southern city of Bangalore, in the state of Karnataka, has always been known for its pleasant weather. This time, the city received international validation when a certain Malaysian footballer played for Karnataka-based side Misaka United.
Nurul Azurin Mazlan, the goalkeeper for the Malaysian women's national team, played for Misaka in the recently concluded Indian Women's League 2023 season. However prior to that, she got the experience of playing for the club in the Karnataka Women's League. It's safe to say that the much-talked-about weather of Bangalore grasped her into its charm as well.
"I was really happy to be in Bangalore because I really liked the weather. It's balanced, it's not too hot, not too cold. It was very shocking to play in the heat (in Gujarat), which was about 44 degrees at times. It was my first experience in such conditions, but I took it as a positive challenge," she told The Bridge.
Ever since the youngster started her club career, Azurin always had her mind set on foreign lands to rack up experience so that she could help her performance with the national team. In her short time in India, she has managed to do just that.
"I'm so happy to have played in the Karnataka Women's League and the Indian Women's League. There's so many things that I learned here, like how to attack in international football high-intensity matches. Right now, the Malaysian national team isn't as strong as others. For me to learn more and to do better for my country, I play club football abroad. I can bring the experience which I've got in India to the national team," she said.
That clean sheet against Gokulam Kerala
While Misaka United narrowly missed out on a quarterfinals spot by finishing fifth in Group A, just outside the top four, one particular match attracted eyeballs and praise towards the Karnataka-based side in equal measure. It was when Misaka prevented eventual champions from scoring a goal in their group stage encounter.
Azurin was adjudged as the 'Player of the Match' award as she stood strong between the sticks and delivered a brilliant clean sheet, one of five which she collected throughout her IWL campaign, just one behind 'Golden Glove' winner Maibam Linthoingambi Devi of Kickstart FC, and Sethu FC's Anjila Subba.
Azurin receiving the 'Player of the Match' award for her performance against Gokulam Kerala
"It's disappointing (Misaka's campaign) because we actually did well. We managed to get a crucial point from Gokulam. Before the match, we didn't expect that we could get a point against one of the strongest teams in the IWL. Our main plan was to hold them, not let them play. It's not only me, the whole team collectively put in the effort to prevent them from scoring," Azurin said.
Not only did the Malaysian keep a clean sheet against the Malabarians, but also managed to keep Nepal's Sabitra Bhandari, this season's top scorer with 29 goals and a face Azurin was familiar with prior to the match, quiet.
"I actually played against Sabitra Bhandari back in 2017 during national team duty, so we knew each other, not closely, but since we'd played against each other," she said.
Malaysia miles behind in Women's Football
Women's football back home in Malaysia isn't as developed as here in India, at least in terms of quality. Moreover, being the first Malaysian to come and play in the IWL meant that Azurin's well wishers were pleasantly surprised by the development.
"To them it's quite shocking that I came to India to play for football. I get a lot of positive feedback, as they feel it's good to see Malaysian women players playing abroad. In terms of competitiveness, it's better to play abroad than in Malaysia," Azurin revealed.
While Azurin and others like her haven't had to face any difficulties when it came to playing football, the Women's Malaysian Super League itself is quite young, with it being just a year old. Before this, a tournament called the Piala Tun Sharifah Rodziah served as the only women's football competition, used to be played annually, but was just a week or two old in duration.
However, the arrival of a fresh face in the management promises for better things.
"Before coming to India, I was playing in the Malaysian Super League. Our league (Piala Tun) is held for only about a week or two. In the future, we might have a longer league. Our association has appointed a new coach from Jordan and are trying to make the game more professional by having a longer league and developing the grassroots," Azurin explained.
Due to the underdeveloped nature of the country's top division, the national team's growth is also getting stunted. After her time in India, Azurin believes that the All India Football Federation can invest more time and money into the fledgling league, solely on the basis of the national team's performance.
"In India, the national team is doing well so the AIFF can increase the budget and make the league longer, improve the broadcasting," she said.
"It depends on the club and myself. If the club wants me then I will try to give 100% to them," Azurin kept the option of returning to the subcontinent open as she concluded.