Match Preview: Naufal Rises to the Challenge to Score Goals
While Geylang International paraded former Yokohama Marinos player Yushi Yamaya in front of the national press at an unveiling ceremony at Our Tampines Hub, another new face from Balestier Khalsa made an unheralded entrance into the stadium and went about his training session outside of the media glare.
Six games into the season, this little-known forward has started to turn heads among the Eagles faithful when he netted twice for his new club - just one goal behind marquee signing Yamaya.
For his success in front of goal, there is no doubt in the minds of the supporters on who Naufal Azman is and what he can accomplish for the team.
How quickly Naufal's fortunes have changed when his name was hardly talked about by the community and expectations of him to contribute goals were almost nil before the start of this season.
Plying his trade as a winger for his previous clubs, Naufal scored only two goals in 49 appearances - the last as a Young Lions player in a league match against Hougang United on May 19, 2018.
Without a proven scoring record to show for in his professional career, it came as a surprise to many that head coach Noor Ali assigned Naufal the leading striker role in the season opener against Tampines Rovers, filling in the boots left by Croat hotshot Sime Zuzul.
Instead of being daunted by the magnitude of the task ahead, Naufal has gamely taken up the challenge of spearheading the team's attacking unit.
The 1.75m forward compensates his lack of a strong built with tenacity and tireless running upfront, often putting opposing defenders under pressure and winning valuable possession in the attacking third.
Naufal's hardworking attitude is topped off by his lethal finishing, as evidenced by his goal returns against Young Lions and Brunei DPMM.
With Noor returning to his tried-and-tested 5-3-2 formation in the previous match against the Wasps which saw the pairing of Naufal and Yamaya scoring all three goals for the team, the Eagles fans are excited by the prospect of the former national academy player flourishing alongside his talented Japanese counterpart.
That newly formed partnership comes timely as Geylang International face off against a rock-solid Albirex Niigata defence that had not conceded a goal in 283 minutes from the start of the league campaign until it fell to a Boris Kopitovic strike in the last gameweek.
More than ever, a telepathic understanding between Naufal and Yamaya would be key for the Eagles to find a way past the White Swans backline and come away with an improbable win that would strengthen their top-three position in the league.
Team news: After earning a proud achievement of captaining the Singapore national team in an international friendly against Macau, Geylang International skipper Joshua Pereira is raring to rejoin his clubmates to face the defending league champions.
Noor Ali is also relieved to have first teamers Amirul Adli and Huzaifah Aziz returning from their international duties without picking up any injuries.