Cerebral palsy team captain's goal fuelled by childhood dreams
MOMENTS after the finest moment in his career so far, Khairul Anwar Kasmani recalled vividly his childhood days spent at the old National Stadium to cheer Singapore's football icon Fandi Ahmad in the 1990s.
He dreamt of playing for his country. He dreamt of playing in front of his home crowd. He dreamt of scoring a goal in a red shirt.
And yesterday morning, all those dreams came true.
With a minute left on the clock, Singapore's cerebral palsy football team captain hammered home a ferocious shot from 25m out to secure a 1-0 win over Indonesia in the opening match of the 8th Asean Para Games (APG).
That gave the hosts a rousing start to the Games, even before the multi-sport event's opening ceremony in the evening.
Khairul said: "It's a dream come true. I've watched Fandi Ahmad and Indra Sahdan play during those days, a long time ago. Everybody wants to score at the National Stadium.
"It feels special. We have always played our matches away and there's not much of a celebration (when the team scores). But this is a totally different feeling. It's overwhelming."
Throughout the 60-minute seven-a-side game played on a smaller pitch, the 29-year-old was at the heart of the action. Launching himself into tackles, initiating attacks with his passing and ultimately, leading by example through his winner, the defender buzzed about the Kallang pitch, fuelled by his dreams.
And he hopes the win, which gives Singapore a headstart in the round-robin group, will ignite a string of victories from the rest of the Team Singapore contingent.
Khairul said: "It means a lot not just to the team but the whole Singapore contingent. It's a curtain-raiser and I hope that it will give a boost for them to perform even better."
And the crowd of 1,730, who cheered incessantly for both teams, were impressed by the players' effort.
Housewife Goh Gin, 53, said: "I was surprised at how well our players played. I was impressed with their team work and how well-coordinated they were.
"Actually, it's not easy for them to run so much for 60 minutes and you can see some of them struggling with their balance. But they showed great fighting spirit. I especially like the way Khairul played because he is so strong. It was as exciting as a normal football match."
Khairul added: "We didn't want to disappoint the fans. Every chance we tried, they would cheer, they were fantastic."
The defender is one of two C7 players in the team. The higher the classification for the player, the lower his disability.
Even though Singapore had the game's only C8 player (Abdul Mahdi), Indonesia, participating in their first-ever competition since their team's formation eight months ago, fielded a stronger squad with five C7 and two C6 players.
But after the thrilling win, Singapore coach Mohamed Zainudeen was satisfied, saying: "We didn't know what to expect and we didn't underestimate them. It was an even but tough game and a fantastic fight... So much positives to take away from this game. It's a good start."
Singapore will take on reigning champions Myanmar tomorrow for their next five-team round-robin match. The Myanmarese had beaten Singapore 2-0 in the final at the previous APG last year.