He was not supposed to be in the starting line-up but Sheikh Abdul Hadi ended up yesterday evening as Singapore's goal-scoring hero.
As national Under-23 football coach Aide Iskandar revealed after the 1-0 SEA Games win over the Philippines, Amirul Adli was set to play at Jalan Besar Stadium but withdrew from the team owing to injury before the match, paving the way for Hadi to endear himself to the fans with the winning goal - his first as a pro.
Known for his uncompromising and robust approach to the game, the centre-back brought calm to the fore when it mattered.
With the sell-out crowd at Jalan Besar Stadium expecting a win for the home side, Hadi settled the nerves on and off the pitch, with his cool head making the difference.
Rising highest, he headed a Safirul Sulaiman free kick past a stranded Florencio Badelic in goal, sparking scenes of euphoria in the stands and the bench in the 44th minute, a minute before the half-time whistle.
Hadi's match-winning contribution last night was a far cry from his temperamental displays in the lead-up to the Games.
In March, the 23-year-old was shown a straight red for an altercation with a Cambodian player in the Singapore U-23s' 3-1 defeat by the Cambodia U-22s.
Against the Young Azkals, Hadi excelled as well, as he marshalled the defence with supreme confidence, nullifying the threat from striker Gerardo Valmayor.
Hadi, who models his game after Manchester City defender Vincent Kompany, read the game expertly and was one of the main men behind the Young Lions' clean sheet.
Playing in his last Games, he would be delighted if this sets Aide's men on the historic path towards ending the 56-year SEA Games football gold drought.
This article was first published on June 2, 2015.
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