SINGAPORE: The ball has just hit the back of the net and Vasileios Zikos Chua simply loses it.
It’s a tap-in rather than a thunderbolt, a crowd closer to 900 than 90,000, but nothing will steal his moment.
At 16 years and 364 days of age, an early birthday cake waits for him back at his Pasir Ris home, but that can take a back seat. Chua will have the proverbial icing first.
He came close in the first half, an instinctive volley from a corner knocked off the line by a Young Lions defender.
But he gets his goal in the second. A Christopher van Huizen cross leaves the Young Lions goalkeeper flapping and Chua has a gaping goal at his mercy.
But rather than smashing it first time, he chops back onto his left foot, and tucks the strike past a desperate, lunging challenge.
The Nanyang Junior College student who grew up treading on grapes in his grandfather’s vineyard in the Greek countryside has stamped his authority on the professional game in Singapore’s top tier.
He is now the third youngest scorer in the history of Singapore's professional league. And then, the remarkable composure he displayed to score seconds ago immediately dissipates.
“He was like a small boy when he celebrated that goal,” Geylang International’s head coach Noor Ali told CNA. “I’ve been telling him that you’re sixteen, learn to enjoy the game, the goals will come … You can see how composed he was when he finished, he could have taken it first time.”
Clenched fists, astonished look, unadulterated joy.
“I totally lost it,” recalled Chua, “I lost my mind ... It meant a lot to me, it’s my first professional goal, that was massive.
“It’s something growing up and wanting to be a professional player you dream of, and actually scoring in a league game, it meant the world to me.”
A ‘SUPERSTAR’ IN SCHOOL
Flanking Lake Orestiada, the picturesque town of Kastoria in Northern Greece is where Chua spent a large chunk of his childhood.
Born to a Singaporean father and Greek mother who met when they were studying in the UK, Chua remembers an active childhood of going for tennis classes, swimming and, of course, football.
“I used come back to Singapore every summer to see my relatives, my grandparents,” he added. “It was nice.”
The family moved to Singapore when Chua was 10.
"When I first heard the news we were moving, I cried for the whole night," recalled Chua. "My heart was broken ... All the friendships I forged, I thought it was going to be lost."
But he quickly found his feet, both in his studies and on the pitch.
“The main difference was the education system: At primary school level in Greece, it was a lot more relaxed,” said Chua. “In Greece, I was considered a pretty good student … But in Greece, everything was in Greek …especially for Science, all those terms were extremely different so that really put me down, it made me feel like it was going to be extremely hard.”
Noor Ali, who coached Chua when he was a secondary two schoolboy at Tanjong Katong Secondary School, recalled how the striker used to score goals for fun.
“This boy was a superstar in the school, all the players would pass him the ball and expect him to do things on his own,” said Noor Ali. “I remember one of the school games I put him on the bench, he looked like he was going to cry because he knew what he could give to the team.
“I just wanted him to know that its not just about him, he had to realise this.
“He started to change and show a positive attitude and we went on to win east zone champions and national champions, with him finishing as top scorer.”
That season, Chua scored 26 goals. Back then, fist-bumps would suffice as far as goal celebrations were concerned.
Two years later, the 1.84m tall striker would write his name in the annals of Singapore football.
In the same stadium and against the same opponents against whom he would go on to score his first professional goal, aged 16 years, two months and 19 days, Chua came on in the 87th minute of a 3-1 win, and became the youngest ever player to feature in Singapore’s professional football league.
“Like the goal, that was a dream come true, just to make the appearance really mattered a lot,” said Chua.
NOT SACRIFICING HIS STUDIES
But that would be Chua’s second and final senior appearance for Geylang in the 2018 season. O-Levels were looming and he had to knuckle down to study.
And Chua’s exam results speak for themselves - he scored an L1R5 of eight points.
“I got into TK (Tanjong Katong Secondary) on the DSA (Direct-School Admissions Program) … But I wasn’t there just to study for the sake of it, I wanted to to do well. I still feel the same way, I want to do well for my studies,” he said.
“I want to have a fall back plan and studies could be something I am interested in in the future,” he added. “Hopefully I have a long football career and I have that to fall back on.
“Playing professionally is definitely plan A, but I do want to go to university and get a degree.”
Now a JC 1 student at Nanyang Junior College (NYJC), Chua continues to divide his time between studies and football. He not only features for the Geylang senior team, but for NYJC’s A Division side, where he has eight goals in three games this season.
“You can see him (coming for training) in his JC uniform and he tries to make time for it,” said Noor Ali. “He’s somebody the younger generation should look at because he knows how to balance studies and football. He creates that good example for the rest of the young ones.
“He has a very good attitude, he wants to learn and in training, he has this positive attitude, whether I play or I don’t play, I still go out there and give 100 per cent. Character-wise this guy is fantastic.”
A DIFFICULT DECISION
Chua, who holds both Singapore and Greek passports, will eventually have to make the tough choice of deciding between both countries.
Like Singapore, Greece has mandatory military service - generally nine months - for men from the age of 19.
“I feel Greek, I feel Singaporean,” the soft-spoken Chua explained. “I grew up in Greece, it’s definitely a big part of me. And I’ve represented Singapore for so many international competitions for the age groups, so I definitely feel a sense of pride when I play for Singapore. No matter what decision I make, it will be tough for me. Thinking of it scares me.
“I’m really conflicted. I'm really not too sure what to choose. I'm nowhere near making a decision. For me it would be really hard to give up (either) one of them.”
His coach Noor Ali believes that the youngster could achieve big things for the Lions.
“This boy can go very far,” said the former national team midfielder. “He’s somebody I believe can really help Singapore score their scoring problems. I know we have Ikhsan (Fandi) - if in five years time we have Ikhsan and him, that would be (a pair of) great striking partners for Singapore.
“He has a potential that at this time I don’t see anybody has. He has that ability.”