Afiq set sights on Suzuki Cup after recovering from injury nightmare

Tampines Rovers defender Afiq Yunos is eyeing a return to the national team fold after an injury-blighted 2015.

2015 was supposed to be the year of breakthrough for Afiq with Baihakki Khaizan returning to Johor Darul Ta’zim II and Safuwan Baharudin off for a three-month loan stint with A-League club Melbourne City.

The 25-year-old was expected to be the new lynchpin of the LionsXII defence alongside Madhu Mohana but things did not turn out as expected, with the centre-back finding himself drifting in and out of the team as a result of a hereditary gout issue.

A cruel ankle break while away on international duty with Singapore in late March then ended his season in premature fashion.

The road to recovery has not been easy as he would readily admit, though Afiq says that has now only increased his satisfaction that he is finally nearing full fitness ahead of a busy campaign with new club Tampines Rovers.

“I really felt so disappointed back then because it was my first major injury,” he recalled following a training session at Jalan Besar Stadium.

“That experience helped me learn to be patient and to work even harder. Mentally I have to be stronger, physically I need to take care of my nutrients and food intake because of gout.

“I’ve been seeing a specialist who told me to eat natural and organic food, I’ve been doing that and it’s fine for now.

“There’s a lot of things for me to take care of myself off the field, so hopefully I can stay fit this year. It’s been a long time since I last played, but the confidence and desire to get back has always been there.

“My new year resolution is to stay 100 per cent fit for the whole season and of course it’s time for me to come back to fight for my position.”

Tampines have heavily strengthened in the off-season with the recruitment of several LionsXII players, while V. Sundramoorthy’s men can count on the potential signing of former Arsenal and Liverpool winger Jermaine Pennant.

With the influx of talent establishing his side as one of the favourites for the S.League title, Afiq is confident that the ingredients for success that could help him relaunch his national team career are present.

“I can safely say that this the right platform for me,” said the towering defender. “There’s a lot of quality players, including veterans and foreign players.

“Even Pennant is here with us, so we’ll be able to share our experiences around. I’m definitely looking at a national team recall.

“First things first, I’ve to fight for my place at the club then hopefully I will be able to get the call-up in the near future.”

With the AFF Suzuki Cup coming up in November, it is no secret that Afiq, like any other Singaporean footballer, yearns to play a part in the biennial regional tournament.

“Of course it’ll be a bonus for me if I represent that country in this competition,” he emphasised.

“Thank God that I’m fit now after eight months out and I want to come back to show what I can do. I’m prepare to work very hard to do whatever coach (Bernd Stange) wants to gain a spot in the squad.”