Football: Three games left for Tanjong Pagar to get first win in Singapore Premier League

This is the longest Luiz Junior has gone without seeing his family. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - He has played football since he was four years old, represented Brazil at the Under-17 World Cup in 2007 and played in North Africa, the Middle East, Indonesia and Malaysia.

In February, Luiz Junior arrived in Singapore in high spirits, ready to help Tanjong Pagar United make their mark in the Singapore Premier League (SPL) after a five-year absence.

But disaster struck in the third game against Albirex Niigata on March 20 as Junior fractured his left shin bone.

A month later, he was dealt a further blow when travel restrictions because of the coronavirus prevented his wife and daughter, who turns 10 next month, from travelling here. They are still in Rio de Janeiro.

This is the longest he has gone without seeing his family, the 30-year-old Junior told The Straits Times. "I only know how to play football. If I don't, I become crazy," he said. "If my family were here with me, they could help me stay relaxed but I had to recover alone. It's not the same without them.

"I miss them very much, my daughter video-calls me every day and sometimes she's crying. Everything I do is because of them. I'm playing football for them."

Despite the heartache, his performances on the field have not been affected. He is the club's top scorer with five goals in his last seven matches.

He said he is only at 85 per cent fitness and still feels some pain but paid tribute to Tanjong Pagar team manager Noh Alam Shah and head coach Hasrin Jailani for being patient with him.

Junior said: "The coaches gave me time to train and recover well. They never put pressure on me and told me to play only when I have no pain. They helped me get back without pressing me, that's why I can relax, play well and score goals for the club."

His immediate priority is helping the Jaguars, bottom of the eight-team league, earn their first win of the season against Hougang United on Saturday (Nov 28).

Tanjong Pagar are the only side yet to record a victory this term but Hasrin, who replaced Hairi Su'ap just before the SPL restarted in October, said his team need to start more aggressively.

"What we need to improve on is we need to see characters in the team who can take the lead, instead of waiting us to go 1-0 down and come back," said Hasrin, 45.

The clash against Hougang will be their third game in seven days but Hasrin remained hopeful. He said: "Junior is very important for us. If you look at him, he is in a different class. He's still coming back from injury but I think he will get better. We're very happy with his goals for us.

"Any team that meets us may think it's a definite win for them but we will try to stay motivated and go all out and hopefully, we can spring a surprise."

Cheetahs coach Clement Teo is relying on defenders Anders Aplin and Lionel Tan to shackle the Brazilian forward.

Pointing to the recent 2-0 defeat by Tampines Rovers, Teo said: "Junior will be tricky too. Individually, they've been briefed on what needs to be done but it's a learning process.

"They were taught a lesson by (Stags striker Boris) Kopitovic in the last game and they might lose out on the physical aspect but I'm confident they will get the job done.

"We have improved throughout the season, especially in our last game. We were patient and creating better chances. Form comes and goes but I'm happy with our showing. What I could see is desire, teamwork and determination of the players and that will be the bottom line."

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