Baihakki: It's been an incredible ride

The game has given him so much, but Baihakki Khaizan has also made a number of sacrifices over the years to get to where he is on today.

The central defender will earn his 100th international cap when he walks out onto the pitch with the rest of the Singapore team for their friendly against China in Tianjin on Friday.

Reflecting on the "incredible ride" he has had with the Lions thus far, the 29-year-old is happy that a "risky" career choice has paid off for him.

"It's all been worth it," said Bai, who is set to join a centurion club whose members include Fandi Ahmad, Samad Allapitchay, Malek Awab and Aide Iskandar.

"All that time away from my family during important occasions like Hari Raya, all the injuries suffered and the doubts over my future - this honour will mean that my sacrifices have all paid off.

"I never thought I would get this far, but I'm not stopping here. I'd like to serve and play for the national team for as long as I can.

"I'm turning 30 next year and will reach the peak of my career. But age is just a number.

"If I keep fit, hopefully there will be more beautiful things to come."

Bai, a key member of the LionsXII team that stormed to the Malaysian Super League title this year, made his national debut at 19 in a friendly match against Hong Kong in 2003.

As a teenager, he caught the eye of then Singapore coach, Radojko Avramovic.

With his 1.90-metre tall frame and composure, he was the right fit for the centre of defence.

He won the Young Player of the Year award in his debut season in the S-League with Geylang United in 2003, before moving to the Young Lions.

Foreign stints

Over the years, he also played for three clubs in Indonesia between 2009 and 2011.

Bai is part of the 19-man Singapore squad for the upcoming international tour, which also includes a friendly against Hong Kong on Tuesday.

He does not rule out the possibility that he could overtake Daniel Bennett's record mark of 128 caps.

Former Singapore captain and central defender Aide, who is assisting national head coach Bernd Stange for the tour, is tipping Bai to beat Bennett's milestone.

"If Bai keeps fit and remains professional, he will go even further in his international career," Aide said.

"I'm not surprised that he's about to achieve this honour.

"His generation of players (which includes Shahril Ishak and Khairul Amri) have lots of potential.

"We all know Bai's qualities as a player. Even when he was a youngster he showed a good level of maturity.

"He knew how to learn from and cultivate the attributes of senior players like (ex-internationals) Lim Tong Hai, S Subramani and myself."

It was not all smooth sailing for Bai, though.

After a disappointing performance in the 2010 AFF Suzuki Cup, the defensive lynchpin was dropped from the next few national squads. It was only early last year that he earned a recall.

His time in the international wilderness spanned a year, and he says it pushed him to work even harder.

"There was a point during that stage where I thought it was the end (of my international career)," he admitted.

"But you could say that I matured from that experience.

"I took it positively, it made me stronger, and I wanted to show that I could go up another level.

"In football, and in life, you need the downs as much as the ups."

Absentees

The Singapore squad departed for Tianjin on Tuesday, with captain Shahril and defender Ismail Yunos both missing through injury.

Shahdan Sulaiman has been called up in place of Shahril, but Stange will also be missing midfield starlet Adam Swandi and centre back Afiq Yunos.

Adam, 17, currently on a two-year stint at the football academy of FC Metz, and, having just started his academic semester today, will remain in France.

After the China game, goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud and defender Shakir Hamzah will join the Under-23s in Kuantan, Malaysia, for the Merdeka Tournament from Saturday to Sept 15 - leaving Stange with just 17 players for the Hong Kong test.

"There is no sense in bringing along youngsters to sit on the bench overseas," Stange explained, adding that both Izwan and Shakir will play against China.

"So, we have agreed to release those two players for the Merdeka Tournament.

"I'm pleased we have a chance to play a top side like China after our poor performance against Oman. All I ask from the boys is improvement. I always want to see better from them."

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