Sports

DOWN, BUT NOT OUT

By ISA HALIM (*Isa Halim 
was speaking 
to Ali Kasim)

It's been a testing month for me - both physically and mentally.

In the last five games for the LionsXII, I have been substituted on four occasions.

My back and heel injuries have not helped my cause.

I visited the doctor yesterday and tests revealed that I had a calcification of the calcaneus; or to put it simply, there is a spur growing on the back of my left heel.

It started during pre-season and my back injury has come about because I've been over-compensating for balance.

I've been pushing my limits and playing with painkillers. It's the first time I've struggled with injuries.

Last year, I started more games for the LionsXII than anyone except goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud.

Mentally, I've had to stay positive and accept the situation. Naturally, I have been disappointed every time I've been taken off.

I want to play every second of every game. I am also the captain.

When you're taken off, you always ask yourself, "Did I not play well? What did I do wrong?".

But I'm not complaining.

I take it all in my stride and I'm more than prepared to fight for my place.

We play Terengganu tomorrow in another important Malaysian Super League (MSL) clash in front of our fans and, after being eliminated from the FA Cup by Pahang last week, it's important we bounce back.

It won't be easy as Terengganu gave us a tough fight, both home and away, the past two seasons.

FITNESS BATTLE

I'm still not sure if I'm fit enough to start. Coach Fandi is eager to see if I can play, while the team physiotherapist and sports trainer have been helping me with my injury.

A decision will be made only after today's training.

If I do start, with painkillers or not, I'll give 100 per cent to impose myself in midfield.

Of course I wonder about my starting spot in the LionsXII, especially when the players coming in do better than me.

If the coach needs to replace me and push defender Safuwan Baharudin up to midfield, I don't mind, because what matters most is the team.

Coach Fandi has been very honest and professional.

He has already explained to me that I've been substituted either because the team were chasing games and needed more attacking players, or because he didn't want me to aggravate my injury.

Last season, I played a prominent role for the LionsXII when we won the MSL.

This season began promisingly for me when I was given the captain's armband.

Now, just five games into the season, people are already questioning my ability.

Some fans have been encouraging, of course, but I've also heard critics say that I don't deserve to be in the team.

I have started just one game for Singapore over the past year, and was left on the bench during the Asian Cup qualifier against Jordan on Tuesday.

Safuwan started in my place and it looks as if I've fallen lower in the pecking order with the Lions.

But I'll be the first to admit that Safuwan is in terrific form. He is a natural footballer and can help the team in defence, midfield and even up front.

I am experienced enough to know there are highs and lows.

During the 2012 Suzuki Cup, I was overlooked by then-coach Raddy Avramovic when Hariss Harun broke his leg.

Raddy opted to try striker Aleksandar Duric in midfield, instead. But, I worked harder and waited for my chance.

It came, and I played all the way from the quarter-finals to the final, where we won the championship.

After the tournament, Raddy came to me and said, "Thank you, Isa. You had a great tournament; you really surprised me".

I have always had to compete with good players for my place in the national team. I like the challenge, it makes me a better player.

M'SIAN SUPER LEAGUE