Charyl Chappuis makes comeback, targets 2016 AFF Suzuki Cup

Thailand midfielder Charyl Chappuis is targeting a place in the national squad for the final round of 2018 World Cup qualifying, starting in September, after making his long-awaited return from injury in a low-key friendly this week.

Chappuis played just a few minutes of Suphanburi's 3-1 victory over regional league side FC Simork on Monday but it was an important step after a 16-month journey back.

The Swiss-born 24-year-old was one of the stars of Thailand's 2014 AFF Suzuki Cup triumph but has played no part in the ongoing World Cup qualifiers.

"It was great... that is why you work hard every day," Chappuis told ESPN FC. "It was the hardest time of my life, a very long time, and I am happy to be back.

"I know there is still a long way to go, but to play a few minutes with my teammates and stand in the stadium was a great feeling."

The former Switzerland youth international was the hero of the hour in his most recent appearance in a competitive fixture in December 2014. Thailand were on the brink of a 3-0 defeat to Malaysia in the second leg of the Suzuki Cup final, having squandered a 2-0 first leg lead. But it was Chappuis who came to the rescue, scoring a crucial goal with under 10 minutes to go before Chanathip 'Messi J' Songkrasin added a second to the secure the trophy, with a 4-3 aggregate victory, for the War Elephants.

Chappuis netted four goals in the tournament and he became a household name across Thailand. But, almost immediately after lifting the trophy, he was on the operating table for a major knee cartilage operation.

"It was a strange situation where my last game was the final of the AFF Suzuki Cup when everything was going crazy," he said.

"Returning is not easy, of course, after more than 400 days, but I take it step by step. When I look back on the six months before my injury, it was amazing. I played every game and it helped me find a rhythm to my play. It was the best six months of my professional career. I don't know how I got my injury, but I don't think about that. I only think about coming back to play for Suphanburi."

Regarding a timeline for a return to competitive action with his club, Chappuis was understandably cautious.

"I don't know when because I must take it step by step and it is the decision of our staff," he added. "We now have many important games and, of course, I know I will not return on Sunday to play 90 minutes. I do not even know if I am in the squad. I am not in a hurry but my return will be soon and that is for sure."

The 24-year-old has endured a long and frustrating period, missing the whole of the 2015 league season with Suphanburi, in addition to World Cup qualification matches and friendlies with the national team.

There are still several months before Thailand resume their World Cup qualifying campaign with ties against Saudi Arabia and Japan. Then, later in the year, they defend their AFF Suzuki Cup title in Philippines and Myanmar. And Chappuis is already hoping, and planning.

He said, "Of course I am looking forward to the World Cup games and Suzuki Cup, but first I want to play for Suphanburi. This is to give them something back for all their help.

"Of course, my main target is to play in the qualification games against Saudi Arabia and Japan but, in the end, the coach must decide. I will give my best and train hard to be ready for these games but I must show Suphanburi my best form and everything will come from there."

It may be too soon to expect to see Chappuis playing for his club when they face BBCU FC away this weekend. But all Thai football fans will be hoping that the talented midfielder's recovery goes smoothly and it will not long before they see him back in regular competitive action for club and country.