Zulfahmi Arifin's extra practice on free-kicks pays off
National midfielder, who scored last-gasp free-kick against Oman, puts in work to perfect his set-pieces
After training, national midfielder Zulfahmi Arifin would often pick up a ball and work on perfecting his free-kicks.
The 27-year-old would practise shooting from various spots outside the penalty box, stopping only when he was satisfied with his performance.
|YOUNG LIONS||HOUGANG UNITED|
His extra efforts paid off during the AirMarine Cup final against Oman in Bukit Jalil last Saturday, when he scored a crucial 25-metre free-kick in the last minute of stoppage time to equalise for Singapore.
Before the kick, the last thing he heard was caretaker national coach Nazri Nasir shout "make it count".
And he certainly did. Zulfahmi swung his left foot to curl the ball to the top-left corner, surprising even himself.
He recalled: "I was so shocked that my hair was standing. I just turned and stood there, holding the crest. I didn't even know how to celebrate."
The Lions may have lost on penalties after Zulfahmi made it 1-1, but his free-kick was among the highlights of a creditable campaign.
It was Zulfahmi's first international goal after his Lions debut in 2013. But that was the fourth free-kick goal in his professional career.
The first three were with the now-defunct LionsXII in 2014, where he scored off free-kicks from similar situations against Malaysian Super League teams PKNS, Johor Darul Ta'zim and Felda United.
"I have actually scored more free-kicks than normal goals in my whole career," he said.
Since returning from Bukit Jalil, Zulfahmi has been going for physiotherapy sessions.
Not many would have known that the Hougang United captain has been playing with a minor injury on his left foot.
"I haven't been at my 100 per cent... but with the game adrenaline, I don't feel anything when I play," he said.
He hurt his heel during a Singapore Premier League match against Balestier Khalsa earlier this month but has continued playing.
This is his second stint with Hougang, following a one-year sojourn with top-tier Thai club Chonburi FC last year.
"Playing at Chonburi was a realistic dream come true, but it's not easy to play in that league as a foreigner," he said.
"I'm sad to leave and would have loved to stay in Thailand but they had different plans.
"The dream to play abroad is still there but, for now, I'm fully focused on Hougang."
Zulfahmi, who first joined the Cheetahs in 2017, is delighted to don the orange jersey again.
"They supported my dreams of playing overseas... and now I want to repay them," he said.
The Cheetahs, who are third in the nine-team SPL after beating Balestier 1-0 and demolishing Warriors FC 5-1, will face the Young Lions at Jalan Besar Stadium this Sunday.
Hougang may seem the superior side on paper, but Zulfahmi is warning against complacency.
He said: "Everyone is still on a high but we can't let our feet leave the ground.
"The Young Lions are very fit, because I know how Fandi Ahmad trains them, so we need to beat them with experience."
One also can't rule out Hougang beating the Young Lions with another wicked swerve of Zulfahmi's left foot.
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