Shahfiq’s fit and raring to go
Forward confident of contributing to Lions' cause after injury nightmare
A few months ago, Shahfiq Ghani had concerns over his football career after suffering two serious knee injuries in a year.
Now, the 24-year-old (above) is dreaming of a grandstand finish as the Lions aim to defy sceptics and make it out of their Suzuki Cup Group of Death that also includes defending champions Thailand, co-hosts Philippines and a resurgent Indonesia.
"If the opportunity is there for me to play, of course I will want to make full use of it and help the team create chances and score," said Shahfiq.
The Geylang International forward knows all too well how football fortunes can turn in the blink of an eye.
It has been almost exactly three years since Shahfiq scored the last of his international goals.
Coincidentally, that was in a 1-0 win over Cambodia, who are the Lions' opponents in an international friendly at Bishan Stadium tonight.
Since then, he has gone through a gamut of emotions.
In 2013, the forward with a mercurial left foot had his best year as a professional footballer for club and country, winning the Malaysian Super League with the LionsXII, scoring two international goals and picking up a SEA Games bronze medal with the national Under-23 side.
Shahfiq looked set to lead the lines of the next generation of key Lions alongside Hariss Harun and Safuwan Baharudin, but his injury nightmare struck last year.
A week before the 2015 SEA Games football tournament kicked off, he suffered a medial collateral ligament injury and did not play a part as the Young Lions were eliminated at the group stage.
Just when he looked set for a fresh start this year by signing with Geylang International, he tore his anterior cruciate ligament in a freak fall during pre-season training and was ruled out for another six months.
Shahfiq said: "It's frustrating to pick up one serious injury after the other and I almost broke down.
"But, thankfully, I have very encouraging family and friends who helped me stay positive on the road to recovery."
In July, Shahfiq finally made his debut for Geylang in the 1-0 win over Hougang United in The New Paper League Cup plate final.
He then played in six of the Eagles' eight remaining S.League matches, providing a last-minute assist for Sahil Suhaimi in the 2-1 win over Balestier Khalsa before netting a stunner in the 4-1 win over Home United.
It was enough to convince Singapore coach V Sundramoorthy that he deserved a place in the national squad at a time when the only other strikers in his squad are Khairul Amri and Sahil.
Sundram said: "Our biggest problem is that we have not been scoring.
"We have been creating chances, we have hit the post, we have had penalties not given - so we need that bit of luck.
"Moving forward, we lack out-and-out strikers. (Khairul) Nizam was a possibility, but he has been struggling with a knee injury.
"With more training and playing time, Shahfiq will be able to help us with his good delivery from set-pieces.
"He is one player who can score from all angles and give us the extra edge.
"That said, Hariss, Safuwan, Hafiz (Abu Sujad), Gabriel (Quak) and Faris (Ramli) all can push forward and get goals.
"From set-plays, we also have Baihakki (Khaizan) and Daniel (Bennett). It has to be a team effort."
And Shahfiq wants to repay Sundram's faith by helping to end the Lions' six-match winless streak and 233-minute goal drought.
He said: "It's a big morale-booster to be selected by coach Sundram.
"The games I've played in and the contributions I've made give me confidence that I can play my part for the national team."