Injury woes for LionsXII ahead of season-opener
He cut a disconsolate figure as he sat alone in the Jalan Besar Stadium dugout.
With both hands holding a crutch, Afiq Yunos watched on as his LionsXII colleagues went through a training session for their Malaysian Super League (MSL) season-opener against newly promoted PDRM at home on Saturday.
When approached by The New Paper, Afiq said that he was suffering from gout, which is about recurrent attacks of acute inflammatory arthritis that result in a red and swollen joint.
Pointing to his swollen foot, the 1.84m-tall defender said he began to feel pain and discomfort during the team's recent trip to Maldives for the pre-season President of Maldives Invitational Soccer Cup (Pomis Cup) about a week ago.
Gout is known to be partly genetic, and Afiq suspects that must be the case, especially since his father and sister have suffered from the medical condition before.
"I felt a slight pain in my foot before the Pomis Cup trip. I thought it was just a normal ankle strain, but it wasn't," said the 24-year-old.
"The moment we landed in Maldives, I was already in a lot of pain. It got pretty bad, so I met up with the team's physiotherapist to get it checked.
"I took painkillers to ease the pain so that I could train and play without any discomfort. When we came back, the doctor told me that I have gout.
"The pain is very excruciating. It's like having a needle constantly pressed into your skin."
Afiq added that he will be given medication in the coming days.
The lanky defender is largely expected to be the first-choice centre back for the LionsXII, with coach Fandi Ahmad settling on a central-defensive partnership of Afiq and Madhu Mohana for the upcoming season.
The setback has come at the wrong time for Afiq, especially with the departure of regular partner Safuwan Baharudin to A-League side Melbourne City, further reducing the LionsXII's numbers at the back.
"I will be very heartbroken and frustrated if I don't get to play because of gout," said Afiq.
"If I miss out, it's going to be a huge waste, for myself and the team.
"We tried a lot of things in defence before coach Fandi decided on me and Madhu in the middle. Injury will disrupt the momentum that we've had, and worst of all is that we have a limited number of centre backs."
Faris Azienuddin is with the Singapore Under-22s for a friendly tournament in Bangladesh, while Zulfahmi Arifin, who can also fill in at centre back, is ineligible for Saturday's game following a suspension carried over from last season.
If Afiq fails to recover in time, Wahyudi Wahid will partner Madhu, with Hafiz Abu Sujad and Nazrul Ahmad Nazari deployed as fullbacks as they attempt to keep out Ali Ashfaq and Co.
Fandi said: "We have had a good pre-season but, with Baihakki (Khaizan), Safuwan and Shakir (Hamzah) joining other teams, and Faritz (Abdul Hameed) injured, we now have a new-look defence.
"I'm worried about the injuries we have which could affect the balance of our team."
Unfortunately for Fandi and the LionsXII, Afiq isn't alone on the treatment table.
Fandi has had to deal with up to eight other players who are carrying either niggling knocks or long-term injuries.
Captain Isa Halim, who has spent the past year struggling with a dodgy knee, pulled out of training halfway yesterday at Jalan Besar.
But the midfield hardman is confident that a fully-fit squad this time around will help the team realise their full potential.
He said: "We're all working our way to fitness and, when everyone is okay, we will have a very well-balanced squad and we'll do fine."
- Additional reporting by DAVID LEE
LICKING THEIR WOUNDS
- Izwan Mahbud (GK) — ankle
- Afiq Yunos (DF) — gout
- Faritz Abdul Hameed (DF) — knee
- Zakir Samsudin (DF) — knee
- Hafiz Abu Sujad (MF) — knee
- Shahdan Sulaiman (MF) — broken leg
- Isa Halim (MF) — knee
- Raihan Rahman (MF) — knee
- Khairul Nizam (FW) — hamstring