There is nothing like rejection to motivate a footballer.
After being passed over for national team selection in the last two call-ups, Tampines Rovers midfielder Shahdan Sulaiman realised it was time to raise his game.
Three goals in the last seven matches, including a last-minute winner against DPMM in Brunei last month, and the playmaker is back in the groove, again.
The 25-year-old hopes he has drawn the attention of national coach Bernd Stange.
Singapore's next international fixture is against the France Under-21 side in a friendly at Reunion Island on June 2, and Shahdan, who has 32 caps, hopes to be part of the squad.
Ahead of Tampines' AFC Cup Group H match against Myanmar's Nay Pyi Taw FC tonight, the midfielder said he is pleased with his form for the S.League's defending champions.
"It's not for me to say if I deserve a place in the national team, but I think my form has been good recently," said Shahdan.
"Missing out on the last two call-ups was disappointing. In fact, it really bothered me - but it also pushed me to play better.
"The goal this season has been to play well consistently for Tampines, because I know that would mean (regaining my) national place."
Tampines coach Salim Moin praised his playmaker's recent performances on the pitch, describing him as the team's live wire.
"Shahdan's form is something the national coach would surely have noticed by now," Salim said.
"Even if he doesn't score, he creates chances for the team. I'm very proud of him, but his improvement is not just down to us - I'm sure his family has been motivating him as well."
The Stags will need Shahdan to continue his rich vein of form tonight at the Jalan Besar Stadium.
Tampines have reached the AFC Cup quarter-finals thrice in the past, but failed to get past the Round of 16 in 2011. They failed to make it out of the group stage the past two seasons.
Needing just a draw to qualify for the knockout stages, Tampines will have to erase the memories of their 2-1 league defeat by Woodlands Wellington last Friday.
"We've not been very consistent recently, but (tonight's) game is about qualification to the Round of 16, so we have to get a result," Shahdan said.
"Qualification is in our hands, which makes it all the more important we succeed. We have said all along that the AFC Cup is a priority for us."
The Stags, who lost to Nay Pyi Taw 3-1 in the away leg, must once again do without injured Japanese centre back Kunihiro Yamashita.
This article was published on April 22 in The New Paper.
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