Afiq glad to be back in Lions fold

Tampines Rovers defender Afiq Yunos is delighted to be recalled into the Singapore national team, a full year on after the horrific knee injury he sustained in the friendly against Thailand.  

It was March 26 last year when disaster struck for Afiq Yunos as he landed awkwardly on his right foot after chasing down an opponent in the 2-0 loss against Thailand in Korat, taken off just 30 minutes into the game.

He recovered months later, but was unable to gain much playing time at the LionsXII with the season ending.

Fast forward to March 2016, the 25-year-old is now a first team regular with Tampines Rovers – featuring in six games in all competitions and earning a national team (NT) recall in the process.

Speaking from the sidelines at the Lions’ training session at Geylang Field on Monday evening, Afiq believes that it is a vindication of the hard work he put in off the field to return to full fitness.

“I remember it was last March when that injury happened and I’m happy that now I’m back in the squad exactly a year later,” he said.

“I kept myself going by heading to the gym frequently to do conditioning and now I can say I’m back to full fitness. Then whenever I am given the chance by Sundram (V Sundramoorthy) at Tampines, I just do my best.

“Fortunately the coach has trust and belief in me; putting me in three to four games straight in a row, which gives me more confidence and match fitness.

“This call-up comes a bit early for me personally, but it’s good because now they (the coaches) can assess my abilities and see if I’m ready. Anyway I’m really grateful and honoured to represent my country again.”

Afiq, who has eight caps so far, is now ready to make up for lost time.

“Of course it was sad to see your teammates gathering for NT training and you’re not part of it,” he admitted. “But that’s part and parcel of being a footballer.

“When you’re injured, all you can do is to stay strong mentally and get back up. The biggest aspect which I miss training with the NT is getting to learn from the senior players.  They always give me the motivation and confidence; I can learn so many from them.”

At club level, Afiq has to contend with playing with different defensive partners and different formations every other game – something which he believes has helped him become a more well-rounded player.

“It’s good that I’m learning something new every day at Tampines,” said the 1.84m defender. “I actually like it when Sundram plays a back five because we’ll be stronger and there’ll be more covering at the back.”

For most parts of 2015, the defensive axis of Baihakki Khaizan and Madhu Mohana was a constant for Stange as Singapore enjoyed a good start to the World Cup/Asian Cup qualifiers.

However Baihakki will miss the friendly against Myanmar on Thursday through injury, while Madhu is not included in the squad altogether.

This is Afiq’s chance to prove that he is capable of being a regular starter at the heart of defence and he is ready to take the opportunity with both hands.  

“Of course if given the chance to start, I’ll give my heart and soul to the country,” he said. “It’ll be tough playing against Myanmar because they have a lot of runners, so I’ve to keep myself fit and alert.

“I’ll make sure I’m up to the task, so hopefully better things will come my way soon.”

Photo: S.League