Lions winger Faris Ramli wants to end year on a high with trophy
When it comes to bouncing back, not many have the spring that Lions winger Faris Ramli possesses.
Armed with the same determination that saw him recovering from the disappointment at not making the Lion City Sailors' starting 11 to win his first Singapore Premier League title (SPL) this season, Faris is gunning for his maiden trophy with Singapore.
"It's been a mixed year, from the early difficulties to winning the SPL title. It would be a dream year if I can cap it off with the Suzuki Cup," said the 29-year-old.
Faris could make the difference for the Lions against Indonesia on Saturday (Dec 25), as both sides head into the second leg of the AFF Suzuki Cup semi-final all square after last Wednesday's game ended 1-1.
In the first leg of the semi-final clash, Singapore were 1-0 down when Faris found himself in a prime position in the 64th minute with just the goalkeeper to beat.
Just yards from goal, he skewed his shot wide.
Determined to make up for it, Faris redeemed himself just six minutes later as he picked up the ball in his own half and ran towards goal, slalomed past an Indonesian defender before playing an inch perfect pass onto the path of Ikhsan Fandi, who scored the equaliser.
Faris, who has one goal and two assists at the Asean Football Federation Championship, told The Straits Times: "It (the miss) motivated me to push myself further in the game. And one of the first things that came to my mind was how I got that much of space.
"It made me and the team realise that we could capitalise because Indonesia were getting tired and the spaces were opening up. That miss made us pick up our pace and go on the attack."
The tale of zero to hero best describes' Faris' season.
The 2019 SPL Player of the Year joined the Sailors earlier this year after leaving Malaysian side Terengganu FC, eager to pick up from where he left off.
But under then head coach Aurelio Vidmar, Faris failed to get a look in. In the first 11 games of the campaign, Faris started just one - a 3-1 defeat by Hougang United. But in May, South Korean Kim Do-hoon took over as head coach and Faris' fortunes were transformed.
In the last 10 matches of the season, Faris started in eight. His two goals and eight assists during that run saw him becoming one of the Sailors' key men in their title triumph.
On being left out earlier in the season, Faris said: "That was one of the biggest challenges in my career. I was not too sure of what I did wrong. I could only train as hard as I could. It pushed me to my limits and made me stronger mentally and as a player.
"But I was not thinking of quitting. I believe in myself and my abilities and the support from my family and friends was very important for me."
Another man who has showed faith in Faris is Lions coach Tatsuma Yoshida. Faris has started in 13 of 19 matches that the Japanese head coach has been in charge of.
In his pre-match press conference on Friday, Yoshida said: "The last two days, we've been recovering. I believe and trust in my boys for the second leg. In the second-half, we proved that we are a team that can always improve."
Meanwhile, Indonesia coach Shin Tae-yong revealed that his team have not made plans for a penalty shootout - if the semis are still tied after the second game - and were looking to finish the match in 90 minutes.
He has singled out centre-backs Irfan Fandi, Safuwan Baharudin, midfielder Song Ui-young and forward Ikhsan Fandi as players to watch on Saturday.
Shin said: "Singapore were better against us than all the group stage matches they played in. They have players of quality and they played well against us in the first-leg.
"We have been preparing ourselves to have a better game ourselves in the second-leg."
Yoshida however, wants to play Santa Claus on Christmas day as he aims to get the Lions through to the final for the first time since 2012, when they last won the title.
He said: "I want to give a big Christmas present for the Singapore fans and Singapore football."