Shock recall gives Van Huizen hope for Suzuki Cup spot with Singapore
Having been left out of the initial Singapore squad for the March internationals, Tampines Rovers winger Christopher Van Huizen received a late call to join the Lions camp for Thursday night's home friendly against Myanmar.
The 23-year-old joined up with Bernd Stange's charges at the team hotel, knowing that the chance for redemption had come earlier than expected.
It turned out well for Singapore, although they laboured to a 2-1 victory over Myanmar, with goals from Shahril Ishak and Fazrul Nawaz. Van Huizen came on in the last 15 minutes for Khairul Nizam, and made some trademark runs down the flank as he earned his third cap for the Lions.
"If I'm being honest, it was disappointing on the day the final squad was announced," he told ESPN FC. "But when the call came on match day against Myanmar to join the squad, all that was in my mind was butterflies in the stomach like when i received my first NT call-up.
"I was shocked when they [Tampines] pulled me out in the first half of our friendly against Albirex Niigata on Wednesday, and coach Sundram called me to tell me that I've been asked to join the team at Amara hotel the next morning on match day.
"I felt recharged and all i wanted to do was to lace up my boots and get out there in that red jersey. Last year when I made my Singapore debut, I felt I was performing for LionsXII, but this year, I've been on the bench in the first few games.
"Maybe the Brunei game was a bit too late for coach [Bernd Stange] to notice me before the announcement but I don't think the DPMM game was about me saying 'hey, don't forget me'. I went into the game with only one thought, to get three points for Tampines. But, yes, not being in the national team hurts. So to be given the chance to earn redemption immediately was sweet."
Having made his international debut in the 3-0 loss at home to Japan last November, Van Huizen has vowed to push himself harder, even now though he has returned to the international fold.
"I'm with Tampines who have a great squad with a lot of depth," he said. "A lot of experienced players who I learn from every single day. I knew it was going to be a tough fight to get playing time here, but if I did it with the LionsXII, I'm sure I can do it all over again at Tampines.
"It is an honour to wear the Singapore jersey and this is all a new learning curve for me. Not getting called up for the initial squad was painful but the call to return made me understand and treasure it even more.
"But firstly, I have to impress at Tampines. It is up to me to make it happen and I'm going to push myself even harder and give it all I've got."
The talented winger will now travel with the rest of the team to Tehran to take on Afghanistan in their final 2018 AFC World Cup qualifier on Tuesday.
With Japan's 5-0 win over Afghanistan on Thursday, Singapore have secured third spot. But Van Huizen sees the upcoming match as his chance to impress his club coach Sundram, who is one of two assistants to Stange with Singapore.
"I'll fight even harder now and try to keep my national team spot. There are so many good players in my position and it is up to me to nail down a place with the Lions on a permanent basis, starting with the game against Afghanistan," said Van Huizen.
"Hopefully my performance against DPMM has given coach Sundram more faith in me, and I get to start in the next game against Young Lions and show what I can do. It is all about hard work and myself, nothing else.
"I don't normally set high expectations for myself but doing well for Tampines is the priority. If I win a call-up to the national team for the Suzuki Cup, then it'll be a lifetime opportunity and dream.
"But for now, I'm focused on helping my club win the S.League and deep down inside, I'm going to give it a shot and see if I can top the assists chart at the end of the season. That will be my target for the rest of the year."
Tuesday's game will be Stange's final match after three years in charge, having announced that he will not be renewing his contract which ends in April.