Qiu Li still looking to make mark

SINGAPORE - Looking at his torso, Singapore football fans will likely suspect that he ate all the pies. But as Qiu Li says, the only thing he is hungry for is goals. Lots of them.

Mocked in recent years for his tubby figure, eyebrows were raised when the 32-year-old forward made the cut for Bernd Stange's team to face Oman in next Wednesday's Asian Cup qualifier. Particularly since the Lions' new coach is a stickler for physical fitness who has insisted that all national footballers have their body fat measured.

The 1.83m-tall Qiu was reticent when asked about his exact weight, saying only that it is "about 80kg".

But the Shenyang-born player insisted: "I'm not fat. I'm big-sized.

"Some people keep saying I'm fat but if I'm really that fat, I wouldn't be performing so well this year."

He is indeed enjoying a new lease of life this year at Balestier Khalsa, for whom he has netted eight S-League goals so far since signing from Home United. That tally makes him the league's top Singaporean scorer, three strikes behind leader Monsef Zerka, who is Moroccan.

But Qiu's return to form was far from easy.

In July 2010, he ruptured the anterior cruciate ligaments in his left knee while playing for old club Tampines Rovers and after recovering from surgery, tore the meniscus in that same joint twice.

"I would play about five games but needed to rest for about two games after that," he revealed.

His left knee would swell after matches and training, and he would pop painkillers to take to the pitch. If the pain was unbearable, he would get himself jabbed but on medical advice, he could only take an injection once every three months.

But those dark days appear behind him now, and his voice brightened when he was asked about Stange and Balestier's belief in him.

He said: "It's the same in any industry. If the boss likes you and supports you, you will be willing to go through hell for him. Likewise, I will be 100 per cent loyal and will give maximum effort to any coach who believes in me.

"I am very happy at Balestier. Before I signed, I asked about (coach) Darren Stewart. Not one player said a bad thing about him. He cares a lot about his players and I'm delighted to play for him."

The Tigers, in turn, are equally enamoured with their hit-man.

Balestier chairman S. Thavaneson pointed to Monday's 3-1 S-League win over Hougang United to illustrate why. Qiu had earned a spot-kick in the 87th minute, but handed the ball to striker Vitor Borges to open his scoring account even though Qiu was the designated penalty taker.

"That was so unselfish of Qiu Li and shows you just what kind of a man he is," Thavaneson said.

"I am extremely happy with him. There is nothing wrong with his fitness.

"He played all 120 minutes when our Singapore Cup quarter-final against Hougang last month went to extra time and penalties."

On the international front, Qiu has four goals from 24 appearances.

Though that might seem like a paltry return, his unpredictable movement, runs from deep and set-piece excellence still make him one of the Lions' biggest threats. It is no wonder Stange insists that Qiu is a "quality player".

And the player is looking forward to pitting his footballing wits against this crack side from the Gulf.

He said: "The Omani players are big-sized. But I'm also big-sized. Let's see if they can knock me off the ball.

"I am very happy that Stange seems to be impressed with me but I am also worried that I will disappoint him as he has such high hopes for me.

"One thing is for sure - I want to give him my best to repay him."

Spoken like a man with real fire in his belly.

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