NAYPYIDAW - It was his 22nd birthday and he had just one wish - a win in the crucial match against the Vietnam Under-23s to get the Young Lions' South-east Asia (SEA) Games campaign back on track.
Singapore Under-23s centre back Afiq Yunos got his wish last night here in Naypyidaw, Myanmar, but it wasn't served on a plate like his cake.
Operating alongside Safuwan Baharudin, he worked his socks off to repel wave after wave of Vietnamese attacks to help his team post a 1-0 triumph at the Zayar Thiri Stadium and send the Young Lions to the top of Group A.
After a tepid opening draw against a 10-man Laos on Sunday, many Singapore fans feared the worst for the side, especially after Vietnam's impressive display in their 7-0 drubbing of Brunei.
But the Vietnamese found the Young Lions a different kettle of fish.
Aide Iskandar's men put on a resolute defensive display, with Safuwan, and especially Afiq, standing tall. After making a number of timely tackles and numerous vital interceptions to restrict the opposition, Afiq was buzzing after the match.
"I didn't feel tired at all now because I was so focused during the match," he told The New Paper. "We defended so well as a team to achieve this great result.
"After the Laos game, this was like a final for us, and it's great that we responded with a win. This is where we'll get our confidence to qualify for the semi-finals.
"This win is extra special because it's what I wished for and wanted most for my birthday today.
"Now, our target is to get maximum points against Brunei on Friday and Malaysia (Dec 15) to make the last four."
Coach Aide paid tribute to his defenders, and said: "Safuwan was terrific again and Afiq was fantastic today. "He won headers and he was quick to make key challenges."
Last night's match between two potential semi-finalists was a timely win for Aide.
Just like he predicted, his boys were up for it.