Football: Yasir wants thrilling end to year

Yasir Hanapi on the ball against Cambodia at Bishan Stadium last Sunday. His second-half goal made all the difference in Singapore's 1-0 win and he will want more of such outings at the AFF Suzuki Cup starting on Saturday.
Yasir Hanapi on the ball against Cambodia at Bishan Stadium last Sunday. His second-half goal made all the difference in Singapore's 1-0 win and he will want more of such outings at the AFF Suzuki Cup starting on Saturday.PHOTO: TIFFANY GOH FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Hard-working late bloomer raring to go in AFF C'ship after netting his first Lions goal

In his first match of this S-League season, Yasir Hanapi opened his goal-scoring account for Tampines Rovers with a slick volley against Geylang International - and proceeded to be sent off two minutes later for collecting his second yellow card.

The midfielder's drama-filled 88th-minute debut for the Stags, which ended in a 3-3 draw, proved somewhat foreboding, as his year proved anything but dull.

Besides becoming a key member in Tampines' star-studded squad, the 27-year-old also established himself in the national side, and now looks set to feature in his first-ever Asean Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup.

Not bad for the late bloomer on the international scene who has 12 caps since making his national team debut in 2012.

Fresh from scoring his first international goal in Sunday's 1-0 win over Cambodia, which gave the Lions their first win in seven matches, Yasir said: "I had two good chances against Hong Kong (in a 2-0 defeat), and had one disallowed in a friendly in Qatar, so it felt good to finally get off the mark.

UPS AND DOWNS

It shows that if you don't give up you'll always have a chance... But sometimes you give your best and you don't get the opportunity. Naturally I was disappointed.

YASIR HANAPI, on his time in the wilderness after making his Singapore debut in 2012.

"I always want to score goals."

Reflecting on his international career, he said: "It shows that if you don't give up you'll always have a chance.

"It feels great to be in the squad. I watched players like Baihakki (Khaizan) and Hassan (Sunny) when I was younger, and now they're my team-mates, so it really is like a dream come true."

DESERVED SUCCESS

He is a good battler on the pitch, a box-to-box player. Whether you field him from the start or bring him on as a substitute, he always puts in a good shift. I'm proud of how he's improved over the season.

AKBAR NAWAS, Yasir's coach at Tampines Rovers, on his attitude and work rate.

While things are going swimmingly now, there was a time when Yasir wondered if he would ever don the Lions jersey again.

"Ask any player, everyone dreams of representing their country. But sometimes you give your best and you don't get the opportunity. Naturally I was disappointed," he said.

"Over the years I actually didn't have high hopes (of getting called up) to avoid getting disappointed."

The father of a five-month-old son added: "It's not that I gave up. I just told myself to just keep working hard so that I can provide for my family. They are my No. 1 priority."

While he does not have brawn like Hariss Harun, Safuwan Baharudin's aerial power or Khairul Amri's flashes of skill, Yasir distinguishes himself with his high work rate.

His commitment certainly paid off this season, a notable highlight coming in the Asian Football Confederation Cup (AFC) group stage when he scored the winner in a 1-0 win over Selangor at the National Stadium. His goal, curled delightfully into the top corner, sent Tampines into the AFC Cup round of 16.

Tampines coach Akbar Nawas hailed his player's work ethic and humility, saying: "He is a good battler on the pitch, a box-to-box player.

"Whether you field him from the start or bring him on as a substitute, he always puts in a good shift. I'm proud of how he's improved over the season."

Yasir will need to be at his tenacious best in a group featuring co-hosts Philippines, defending champions Thailand and Indonesia. V. Sundramoorthy's men open their campaign against the co-hosts on Saturday, with Yasir an option to partner Hariss in centre midfield.

The two-time SEA Games bronze medallist said: "As long as Singapore is not ahead, I will keep fighting for as long as I'm on the pitch.

"The build-up to the Suzuki Cup has not been ideal but I can assure you none of us are giving up.

"We are in a difficult group but if we believe in ourselves and work hard, the semi-final target is definitely possible."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 15, 2016, with the headline 'Yasir wants thrilling end to year'. Print Edition | Subscribe