Once the foundation on which several ASEAN title-winning outfits were built, the national football team's defence is giving coach Bernd Stange a headache, 10 days before Singapore begin their defence of the ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup.
Having shipped 13 goals in seven matches this year, of which they won just one and drew two, he identified the defence as a problem area as a 24-man squad got together for their first centralised training session yesterday.
Said Stange: "We have a lot to work on, especially in defending. We allow too many easy goals.
"We have to improve that, especially now in home matches."
It is surprising, given that the likes of Baihakki Khaizan, voted the Malaysian Super League's best defender last year, Safuwan Baharudin and Shaiful Esah have been playing together for much of the last two years.
The trio were also part of the defence which conceded six goals in seven matches en route to winning the Suzuki Cup in 2012.
The Lions take on Laos today at Yishun Stadium in the first of their final two friendlies - with the other against Cambodia at the same venue on Monday - before this year's edition.
Stange said it is imperative the team use the games to iron out the kinks in defence before their opening game against Thailand on Nov 23.
With a run of just one win in seven matches this year, the Lions need their defence to hold the fort as they seek much-needed victories against Laos and Cambodia.
Said the German: "We should win. These are home games and we should try to win both games. Confidence grows with results... and you need confidence.
"We should try to (secure) good results against strong teams from Laos and Cambodia."
As for his preferred starting line-up, Stange is keeping his cards close to his chest.
He said: "I have the first 11 in my mind but I won't say who (they are). Anyway, it's difficult to say now because many things can still happen. It will be a surprise."
He was at least open about what he believes is the team's trump card - the strike force.
Up front, Singapore can count on the experience of captain Shahril Ishak, the team's top scorer in the last Suzuki Cup with four goals, and LionsXII striker Khairul Amri who has 21 international goals.
Strikers Fazrul Nawaz and Sahil Suhaimi have 10 goals each in the S-League, and Stange is confident his attackers can spearhead the team's campaign.
He said: "We have a group of good strikers. They delivered goals in the S-League and Malaysian Super League. We have no problem with them."
Told of his coach's thoughts, Sahil said: "I think it's because we have a group of well-rounded strikers who offer a variety of threats, in terms of technical ability, pace and finishing. I am confident we can work together and score goals for the team."
Against Laos, Stange hopes his men will play the attacking, possession-based game he has advocated since taking over last year.
He said: "I'm looking for attacking football, combination football, not kicking long balls. We have to keep possession, show good counter-attacks and win the game.
"It's not easy, Laos is a good team but we (have been) working on that for a long time and we have to deliver today."
This article was first published on Nov 13, 2014.
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