Dad, in wheelchair, sees Safirul Sulaiman play after 6 years

SINGAPORE - His eyes lit up when he stepped onto the Jalan Besar Stadium turf on Monday.

While the support of the 7,500-odd fans was inspiring, Safirul Sulaiman was more pumped up when he saw his father Sulaiman Abdul Rahman in the stands. He had come to watch his son play after six years.

The 22-year-old midfielder did not disappoint, coming up with an inswinging free kick on the stroke of half-time that was nodded on by Sheikh Abdul Hadi.

That was enough for a 1-0 victory for the Singapore Under-23 side over the Philippines.

Sulaiman suffered a stroke about five years ago after developing complications from high blood pressure. His condition meant that he could not go to stadiums and watch Safirul play.

But with the help of family members on Monday, he turned up in a wheelchair.

"It really motivated me," said Safirul, a member of the LionsXII side who won the 2013 Malaysian Super League.

"From the time I was young, he has been there for me and when I heard (that he was coming), I was thinking of how he was going to come and watch.

"I saw my dad in the stands when I walked onto the pitch, and seeing him there made me really happy.

"Last time, he was standing, now he is sitting. But that is life."

Safirul's national service commitments and centralised training stints in preparation for the Games have meant that he has had to sacrifice much family time.

"It has been hard to not see my family. Even during NS, I would look forward to coming home on the weekends to see my dad and the family."

Safirul's family will be in the stands when Singapore take on Myanmar tomorrow.

"From my young days, he would always tell me to try and shoot from far," said Safirul, recalling that he did just that at the 2011 Games in Indonesia.

He netted from a half-volley from 20m out in a 2-0 group-stage win over Thailand.

With the words of advice from his father still ringing in his head, he might just repeat his heroics at these Games.

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