Football: Resurgent van Huizen looking to soar with Eagles in Singapore Cup semis

Geylang International winger Christopher van Huizen has clocked 17 Singapore Premier League starts in a 24-game season, as well as a league-high 10 assists this term.
Geylang International winger Christopher van Huizen has clocked 17 Singapore Premier League starts in a 24-game season, as well as a league-high 10 assists this term.PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER VAN HUIZHEN / INSTAGRAM

SINGAPORE - For a footballer who made a name for himself via talent-scouting programmes such as Nike's The Chance and Channel 5's First XI, Christopher van Huizen had ironically spent a large part of his professional career on the bench with the LionsXII, Tampines Rovers, Young Lions and Home United.

The respective coaches signed him for his ability to take on opponents and deliver good crosses from wide areas - attributes that earned him a national call-up in 2015 and subsequently four caps - but did not give him a consistent run out.

Frustrated, the 26-year-old considered hanging up his boots to pursue higher education, but checked himself. And he is glad that he did, as the Geylang International winger has clocked 17 Singapore Premier League (SPL) starts in a 24-game season, as well as a league-high 10 assists this term.

Ahead of the first leg of the Eagles' Komoco Motors Singapore Cup semi-final clash with Tampines Rovers at Our Tampines Hub on Saturday (Oct 26), he told The Straits Times: "I also didn't want to retire with a bad season. So I decided to continue and try for a better season.

"Coming on as a substitute is much harder as you have to catch up with the pace of the game with limited time, as opposed to starting. After being benched for so long, I lost my confidence and when I came on, I was like a lost child.

"Thankfully, this season coach Noor Ali has trusted me to be one of his starters. He has helped me grow so much and made me learn a lot about being confident and also positioning on the pitch.

"With this full season under my belt, I'm feeling like it has only just begun for me and hopefully I will get a good offer to continue playing next season.

"I also really want to be back in the national team playing alongside the likes of Faris Ramli, Zulfahmi Arifin and the other big names. I hope my contributions at club level will put me in the national coach's mind for a call-up."

Van Huizen's renaissance has coincided with Geylang's resurgence towards the end of this season. The Eagles completed their SPL season with 13 points and 18 goals from their last six games, before beating Hougang United 2-0 in their last Cup game to sneak into the semi-finals.

With three local teams in the last four, there will be at least one Singaporean representative in the final for the first time since 2016, and Van Huizen is hoping Geylang can go on and pick up their first piece of silverware in 10 years.

He added: "At the start, we had a bunch of new players, we all knew of each other but we didn't know each other's style of play. It definitely took us a while to understand each other. After that, the way we play became second nature and it's showing with the goals and results.

"We are underdogs but we are very hungry to win together. We have come a long way with ups and downs and hopefully, the semi-finals go our way."

With trophies hard to come by for local teams in recent years, the Stags will also want to end their Cup drought, having last won it in 2006. While they are confident of their own firepower - Tampines have scored in all but one of 27 domestic games this season - they are looking to shut out van Huizen and Co.

Tampines coach Gavin Lee said: "They are always close encounters with Geylang and we have shared the spoils with one win and one draw each in the league.

"Chris can deliver good crosses with both feet and players like him and Shawal (Anuar) can damage any team here. We are also well aware of their threats from set-pieces with Yuki (Ichikawa) dominant in the air.

"But we have kept clean sheets in our last two games, something we have not done too often, and we want to continue to keep our back door shut because we have done very well to create various ways to score against stubborn defences."

In the other semi-final, 2012 winners Warriors FC take on SPL champions Brunei DPMM, who are looking for their first Cup triumph.