There was a pleasant surprise in the 23-man strong squad named by new Lions coach V Sundram Moorthy for the upcoming AYA Bank Cup friendly quadrangular, with the highly-rated Azhar Sairudin handed a first-ever call up.
One of the two uncapped players alongside Amy Recha in this squad, Azhar’s impressive form at club level – three goals in his last three appearances – was simply too good for the Dazzler to ignore.
Still, for a player who has never even been called up at the Under-23 level prior to this, the news simply has not sunk in just yet.
“This is the shock of my life!” said the 29-year-old just before participating in his first-ever training session with the National Team. “I never ever expected this to happen, never in my life.”
The Lions went through their paces in a one-and-an-half hour long training session at the Geylang Field on Saturday evening, with FAS vice-president Lim Kia Tong specially coming down to welcome the players. FAS General Secretary Winston Lee and Technical Director Michel Sablon were also present.
The public has been clamouring for an Azhar call-up for the past year, but the man himself did not harbour too high hopes of achieving this dream. Instead, he was focused on helping his club Home United to progress to the next level.
“Yes, I know people have been saying I deserve to be in the national team and why haven’t I been called up previously,” he admitted. “I have no answer to that question, but deep down in me, I know there are many other better players who also deserve this spot.
“I would be lying if I said that I didn’t dream of playing for the National Team one day. But in my head, it’s always ‘no chance man’. I’ve always told myself not to think about that too much; just enjoy my football first.”
“I can say I’m in the best of my career right now and a huge amount of credit has to go to my club coach Philippe Aw. He always advocates an attractive brand of passing football, which exactly fits me in and my style of play.”
Azhar truly belongs to a unique breed of footballers, who are adept with both feet and have a keen eye for that special pass.
Asked to share his secret formula, he chuckled: “I really don’t know how to answer that question. But I always watch videos of Francesco Totti videos, like literally all the time.”
The road to success for Azhar has not been an easy one – given that he had to pull himself together psychologically and emotionally after losing his younger brother Aqil a year ago due to a motorbike accident.
“That was the hardest moment of my life,” he recalled. “I’m so grateful to have everyone, including my friends and team mates, supporting me when I was emotionally so down.
“This matter has really taught me to cherish everything which I have in front of me right now and work hard for them every day – be it in terms of my family or my football.”
Poised to realise his dream to don the Lions jersey, Azhar is now fuelled for a bigger aim – to make it to the squad for the year-end AFF Suzuki Cup.
“I still remember watching Singapore lifting the trophy in Thailand in 2007 when Khairul Amri scored the winner,” he shared. “I really enjoyed watching that game on TV and I felt so proud to be Singaporean at that point.
“If I’m handed the opportunity to play at the Suzuki Cup, be rest assured that I’ll give my best. It’ll be a special feeling for me to be out on the field and have people watching me, instead of the other way round which I’ve been doing all this while.”