Call-up caps Taufik's rapid rise

Taufik Suparno (right) celebrating with fellow striker Irfan Fandi after the latter's late equaliser against Harimau Muda last month. He won the Prime League with Tampines and has played five S-League games.
Taufik Suparno (right) celebrating with fellow striker Irfan Fandi after the latter's late equaliser against Harimau Muda last month. He won the Prime League with Tampines and has played five S-League games.TNP FILE PHOTO

20-year-old rookie who started season in Prime League set to be on bench for 2018 Cup qualifiers

With strikers Khairul Amri and Khairul Nizam both out injured, national teams head coach Bernd Stange has taken a bold step by calling up rookie Taufik Suparno for the squad to face Japan and Syria in the World Cup qualifiers.

The 20-year-old has played only five S-League games for the Courts Young Lions, including last night's 2-2 draw with Geylang International at Jalan Besar Stadium.

However, Stange believes in the youngster's ability. "Taufik deserves the call-up and it will be a key opportunity for him to train with, and learn from, the best national players in Singapore during the next two weeks, including captain Shahril Ishak and Hariss Harun," he said.

With Warriors FC's Fazrul Nawaz likely to be given Amri's main central striking role, Taufik is expected to be on the bench.

But the call-up is the culmination of a dizzying few months for him.

He started the year as a Tampines Rovers reserve and won the Prime League title this season.

  • S'pore squad for Japan and Syria

    Goalkeepers

    •Izwan Mahbud (LionsXII)

    •Hassan Sunny (Army United, Thailand)

    •Zaiful Nizam (Balestier Khalsa)

    Defenders

    •Baihakki Khaizan (Johor Darul Takzim II, Malaysia)

    •Amirul Adli (Courts Young Lions)

    •Shaiful Esah (Tampines Rovers)

    •Nazrul Nazari (LionsXII)

    •Shakir Hamzah (LionsXII)

    •Faritz Hameed (LionsXII)

    •Madhu Mohana (LionsXII)

    Midfielders

    •Christopher van Huizen (LionsXII)

    •Safuwan Baharudin (LionsXII)

    •Izzdin Shafiq (LionsXII)

    •Hafiz Sujad (LionsXII)

    •Zulfahmi Arifin (LionsXII)

    •Faris Ramli (LionsXII)

    •Hariss Harun (Johor Darul Takzim I)

    •Safirul Sulaiman (Young Lions)

    •Yasir Hanapi (Home United)

    Forwards

    •Shahril Ishak (Johor Darul Takzim II)

    •Fazrul Nawaz (Warriors FC)

    •Sahil Suhaimi (LionsXII)

    •Taufik Suparno (Young Lions)

He joined the Young Lions shortly after lifting the championship.

In his S-League debut against the Warriors, he netted from a tap-in to give his side a 2-1 win.

Aleksandar Duric, Tampines Rovers' assistant coach, had noted Taufik's potential, saying: "We watched him a few times when he came for training.

"He has speed and he's quite mature for a player of his age.

"He's not big-sized and he needs to work on having a bigger variety of tricks on the ball.

"It can't get better for him. Not many young players get a chance to go so fast from playing in the Prime League to the national team. It's up to him to show what he can do."

The Lions are currently third in Group E with 10 points from five games, behind leaders Syria (12 points) and level on points with Japan, who have a game in hand.

Taufik's inclusion in the team comes as prolific striker Amri is ruled out of the upcoming games with a hamstring strain.

The injury has robbed the Lions of their most potent attacker who has 29 international goals so far.

Amri netted the winner in last month's 1-0 win over Afghanistan in a Group E match.

Stange said: "Injuries and suspensions are part and parcel of the game. We feel sad that Amri will miss the matches against the top Asian teams, and we hope that he recovers well."

Apart from the surprise inclusion of Taufik, he picked a largely unchanged squad with the LionsXII supplying 12 of the 23 players.

He has retained his experienced core of skipper Shahril Ishak, Hariss Harun, Baihakki Khaizan and Safuwan Baharudin while the likes of Madhu Mohana, Izzdin Shafiq and Nazrul Nazari have been given chances to further their blossoming international careers.

•Tickets for Singapore v Japan on Thursday, from $10 (concession) and $18-$38 (standard) and $48 (for away fans), are available at Sports Hub Tix.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 07, 2015, with the headline 'Call-up caps Taufik's rapid rise'. Print Edition | Subscribe