Football: Lions will be ready for Thais at Suzuki Cup

Football: Lions will be ready for Thais at Suzuki Cup
National football team training session.

A day before the Singapore national football team left for two friendly matches against Hong Kong and Macau later in the week, the players said they were already looking forward to the challenge from the Thais in next month's ASEAN Football Federation Suzuki Cup.

The Lions, who are the defending champions, have been drawn in Group B, which also features three-time winners Thailand, arch-rivals Malaysia and the winners of a qualifying tournament, which could well be Myanmar, led by former Singapore coach Radojko Avramovic.

The Thailand Under-23 team, coached by former star striker Kiatisuk Senamuang, shone at the recent Asian Games, displaying skill, great movement and speed to reach the semi-finals.

A number of the players from that team are expected to join up with the seniors for the Suzuki Cup, which will also be coached by Kiatisuk, and hosts Singapore, managed by head coach Bernd Stange, will open their campaign against the Thais on Nov 23 at the new National Stadium.

Fullback Al-Qaasimy Abdul Rahman admitted the Thais look like favourites, but the 22-year-old said: "Traditionally, they're always a tough team for anyone in the region, they're powerhouses.

"Their wingers are really fast and their fullbacks are quick as well on the overlap, and that's one thing I learnt from my experience playing against them at (last December's) South-east Asia Games.

DEFENDING CHAMPIONS

"But I hope I can use my strengths, mainly aggression and my own speed, to counter them.

"We are defending champions and we'll approach the match as champions, instead of thinking about how good they are." Singapore are record four-time Suzuki Cup champions.

National skipper Shahril Ishak was part of three of the winning teams (2004, 2007, 2012) and said yesterday the experience of knowing how important it is to get off to a good start in the tournament will drive the Lions on.

Said the 30-year-old: "Everybody knows how good and fast Thailand are. You can see from their performance at the Asian Games how impressive they were.

"But they'll be playing us in the first game and we simply can't afford to lose.

"So we'll go all out to make sure we get a positive result against them."

Shahril has a good feeling about the collection of youngsters now in the squad. The 21-man squad that leave today for Hong Kong comprise 13 players below the age of 25 and the youngest in the team, Amirul Adli, is just 18.

Shahril said: "There are a few young boys in the team who our rivals may not know about, and I believe we can surprise the other teams with our quality."

National coach Stange said that, with the Suzuki Cup just over six weeks away, he has a "close" idea of the 23-man squad he will name for the tournament.

The German said apart from the travelling party to Hong Kong, players recovering from injuries like defenders Faritz Hameed, Madhu Mohana and Shakir Hamzah are still in the running.

The former Hertha Berlin coach also continues to keep an eye out on Courts Young Lions players, after the likes of Adam Swandi, M Anumanthan, Iqbal Hamid Hussain, Fadli Kamis, Shameer Aziq all failing to make the cut for the upcoming two friendlies despite being named in recent squads.

NOT GOOD ENOUGH

When asked if he already had a final 23 in his mind, Stange said: "I think I'm very close. I have a few more Young Lions players who I am looking at.

"Players like Anu and Iqbal have the talent to be in the national team but, for me, the most important thing to consider is performance and theirs is not good enough at the moment.

"I believe that my coaching staff and I have the best players here. I don't see too many chances for players to jump in, with just three S.League games left this season."


This article was first published on October 08, 2014.
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