SINGAPORE - With just three touches of the ball, Geylang International striker Khairul Nizam showed the talent that had earmarked him as a potential star but whose flashes of brilliance have only been fleetingly revealed.
When Shah Shahiran's stray pass found its way to Nizam, there seemed little danger for Tampines Rovers and its defence. But the Eagles forward, spotting goalkeeper Syazwan Buhari off his line, struck a stunning 35-metre equaliser that earned his side a valuable point in last week's clash with the Singapore Premier League (SPL) leaders.
Nizam had pointed to the skies in celebration and later explained it was a tribute to his former Singapore Under-18 coach Salim Moin, who died the night before on Nov 6.
He said: "Coach Salim used to tell us, why dribble when you can shoot? Don't dribble so much and waste your energy. (Geylang assistant) Coach Kanan later told me coach Salim used to score this type of long-range goals when he was playing, and I want to dedicate my goal to him... We are all very sad to learn of his passing, and miss him dearly."
It has been more than a decade since Nizam burst on to the scene as a precocious Young Lions No. 9 whom former national coach Radojko Avramovic had tipped to eventually lead the lines for the national team.
But ill discipline and bad luck with injuries meant he is yet to fulfil those expectations. He has 24 caps for Singapore but has yet to score an international goal.
Last year, he managed four goals in the Singapore Cup for Warriors FC but failed to hit the target in 10 league games.
The 29-year-old has struck four times this season for Geylang to become the leading local SPL scorer, a worrying prospect for Friday's (Nov 13) opponents Albirex Niigata.
Nizam insists he is a changed man after getting married in 2017 and determined to make the most of the remainder of his career. Among those goals include playing overseas, adding to his 2015 Malaysian FA Cup medal and ending that unwanted drought with the Lions.
He said: "I was playful and happy-go-lucky back then, and there was a lot of pressure and expectation on me, which I didn't know how to cope with.
"But now that I have a family depending on me, I am more focused. My mind is clearer, and I'm no longer the kid I was. I want to be remembered for the right reasons and not as a wasted talent.
"I'm thankful Geylang signed me after Warriors had to sit out. Like the national team, Geylang have a Japanese style of play with high press and quick counters. We have to be fit to play this style, and I'm looking forward to repaying the club's faith in me."
The Eagles are fifth in the eight-team table with 10 points one behind Lion City Sailors and Balestier Khalsa, four behind Albirex, and six adrift of Tampines.
The top senior local team will qualify for the AFC Champions League group stage, while the next two will play in the AFC Cup.
Eagles coach Noor Ali is relying on Nizam, who has scored in his last three league games, to trouble Albirex at Our Tampines Hub.
Noor Ali, 45, said: "For the longest time, Singapore have not had a No. 9 like Nizam who can hold up play and make good runs behind the defence. After Fandi Ahmad, I think he is the best header of the ball in recent times. He is definitely an asset to us, it is just about managing him in terms of recovery.
The former Singapore international also has a good record against the Japanese outfit after taking charge of Geylang last year. He won two of the three league encounters last year, losing the other.
The Eagles were winless in 18 league games against Albirex from 2012 to 2018.
Noor Ali said: "Albirex will be tough because they are technically sound and energetic. Give them time and space and they will kill you.
We have proven that if we are disciplined, compact, and not afraid to play our own football, we can match any team, so hopefully we will be able to do that against Albirex."