Kuala Lumpur: When Mohamadou Sumareh steps onto the Bukit Jalil Stadium pitch where more than 80,000 expectant fans will turn out to see Malaysia host Thailand in the first leg of the AFF Suzuki Cup semi-final on Saturday, he may afford himself a smile when thinking about how it all began.

Ever since he was a young child, the single-minded 24-year-old had only one dream and that was to become a professional footballer. Unfortunately for Sumareh, his parents did not share the same view and would force him to study rather than pursue his passion.

But as many young children do, Sumareh continued to defy his elders, feeling when it came to his destiny, he knew best. As the forward prepares for the biggest game of his career to date, it appears he may just have been right.

“My parents were against me playing football as they were quite strict and wanted me to focus on school, so they wouldn’t let me out,” revealed Sumareh.

“So I would get slippers, place them on the floor and dribble past them like they were defenders. The wall was my teammate, so I’d pass to it and it would pass back.

“But one day I sneaked out and asked some other boys on the street if I could join them. They had never seen me before and at first said ‘no’. Eventually they let me play and when I got the ball, I dribbled past all of them and scored.

“They found out where I lived and any time they were going to play after that they would come to my house and ask me to join them.”

While clearly talented, the battle with his parents continued when he was in high school, with Sumareh having to take extra classes rather than join in P.E. lessons.

His big break, in a sporting sense, came when one of the specially arranged classes was cancelled and the then teenager decided to go and ask the sports teacher if he could take part.

“He told me the principal had told him I wasn’t allowed to play, but I kept asking and eventually he gave in and said I could go in goal,” said Sumareh.

“But I got really bored and decided to dribble the ball out. I got past everyone and scored. After that the teacher went to the principal and said he really needed me for the school team.”

When the time arrived for Sumareh to go to university, he had already decided there was no turning back, feeling that if he wanted to be a professional footballer he had to act now.

He packed his bags and left home in the middle of the night, staying with friends as he arranged trials with various teams in Malaysia in the hope that one would offer a contract.

The risk, it appears, was worth it as the forward already has a Malaysia Premier League (the country’s second tier) title under his belt and in 2017 finished runners-up in the Malaysia Super League and Malaysia FA Cup, before making his first appearance for his country this year.

“I was planning my holidays outside of Malaysia when I got a call from Coach Tan (Cheng Hoe),” revealed Sumareh, who made a scoring debut against Sri Lanka.

“He told me I was called up for the national team, but at first I thought it was one of my teammates playing a joke. In the end, I thanked him very much and told him I was really happy to be part of the squad.

“I came on in the second half. I was under a lot of pressure but I saw it as a time to challenge myself, I wanted to show people I was worth my place. I gave everything and luckily I scored and it was such a great feeling that I can’t describe.”

On Saturday, Sumareh will face the biggest challenge of his career to date against the defending champions Thailand. Given his determination to make it to this stage in life, there’s little doubt he will be up for the fight.