Singapore Premier League

Tg Pagar count on Junior

Brazilian forward key to bottom side's hopes of earning first win with three games left

Tanjong Pagar United, bottom of the Singapore Premier League, are hoping Brazilian forward Luiz Junior can fire them to an elusive first win of the season against Hougang United today.
Tanjong Pagar United, bottom of the Singapore Premier League, are hoping Brazilian forward Luiz Junior can fire them to an elusive first win of the season against Hougang United today.ST PHOTO: KHALID BABA

He has played football since he was four, 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.

Junior told The Straits Times that this is the longest he has gone without seeing his family.

"I only know how to play football. If I don't, I become crazy," the 30-year-old 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 from his last seven matches.

The forward 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 coach Hasrin Jailani for their patience.

He 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... that's why I can relax, play well and score goals for the club."

His immediate priority is to help the Jaguars, bottom of the eight-team league on five points, earn their first win of the season in the remaining three matches, starting with the game against Hougang United today.

Tanjong Pagar are the only side yet to record a victory this term and Hasrin, who replaced Hairi Su'ap just before the restart last month, said his team need to start more aggressively.​

  • FIXTURES

    TODAY

    Balestier v Geylang Ch112/Ch202

    Hougang v Tg Pagar Ch113/Ch201

    TOMORROW

    Young Lions v Sailors Ch112/Ch201

    Albirex v Tampines Ch113/Ch202

    All matches on Singtel TV & StarHub at 5.20pm and streamed on SPL's YouTube page.

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

Today's clash will be their third game in seven days but the coach 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 meet 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 their recent 2-0 defeat by Tampines Rovers, Teo said: "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.

"Junior will be tricky. Individually, they've been briefed on what needs to be done but it's a learning process.

"We have improved throughout the season, especially in our last game. We were patient and creating better chances. What I could see is desire, teamwork and determination of the players and that will be the bottom line."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 28, 2020, with the headline 'Tg Pagar count on Junior'. Print Edition | Subscribe