Football: Singapore players take the long road back

Football: Singapore players take the long road back
Singapore striker Khairul Amri receiving the close attention of Geoff Cameron and the Stoke defence as he goes on one of his mazy runs.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

Stoke 2 Singapore Selection 0

Over the two days of competition, they conceded six goals, scored none, lost two matches but won plenty of friends and admirers.

Although Singapore football began the year in gloom, there are signs that it is now flickering back to life.

At yesterday's Barclays Asia Trophy third-place match against Stoke City, V. Sundramoorthy's Singapore Selection more than held their own against their English Premier League (EPL) opponents, who fielded a full-strength line-up at the National Stadium yesterday evening.

For Sundram, their performance in the 2-0 defeat in front of 25,000 fans is one that had more positives than negatives.

"I am really impressed with the boys," said the Tampines Rovers coach. "They have done great against both Arsenal and Stoke, passing the ball around and this is the way to go.

"The players enjoyed the two games and they would love to have more tournaments like this and if they can play against top teams like Arsenal and Stoke, they will learn things that will enable them to do better (in the future)."

Potters manager Mark Hughes praised the Singapore side as well, saying: "I thought they did very well, they have good ideas tactically as well.

"We are a big strong EPL side and maybe they lacked that power and physique. That was the key difference.

"I think they should be pleased with the performance in both games."

Hughes' point on Stoke's superior physique was demonstrated in the seventh minute when 2.03m tall striker Peter Crouch outjumped centre-back Baihakki Khaizan, who stands at 1.9m, to cushion a header for midfielder Steve Sidwell to sweep home.

And Stoke had finesse, as shown by forward Marko Arnautovic's curling shot from the edge of the box to seal victory in the 73rd minute.

While the Selection side boasted S-League foreigners in Nicolas Velez (Argentina) and Sirina Camara (France), when the final whistle sounded, the players clad in the red kit were all locals, who will form the bulk of the Singapore national team that will meet Syria in a 2018 Fifa World Cup qualifier on Sept 3.

After the tame group-stage exits in the ASEAN Football Federation Suzuki Cup and the SEA Games (Under-23s), the Lions roared back with a 0-0 draw with Japan in a World Cup qualifier last month.

The Singaporeans' display in the Barclays Asia Trophy, where they took the game to the EPL sides, has been another bright spot.

Singapore Selection captain Izwan Mahbud, who pulled off several good saves against Stoke, said: "After the Japan game, the morale has been high. The Barclays Asia Trophy has given us great opposition to play against, because they are an EPL team and the boys are hyped up (for the future). "

While the Singapore side ended the tournament without scoring, their bravery in opting for passing football as opposed to defending in numbers was certainly lauded by the audience, who cheered the side off the pitch.

Stoke City subdued but Hughes still happy

Known for their fiery brand of football that blends aerial bombardments and deadly counter-attacks, Stoke City were muted at the Barclays Asia Trophy in Singapore.

But manager Mark Hughes is still satisfied with his men's displays after the Potters defeated the Singapore Selection 2-0 to finish third.

"I have been really pleased with what we have produced and it has been a great workout for us," said the 51-year-old Welshman.

"We have not hit the heights (here) but we will in the season. I was encouraged by the technical ability we have shown and (it comes) from what we added to the group with players like Joselu.

Some of the guys we bought have also had game time here and in time they will also gel with the group."

Tellingly, the Potters' defence kept two clean sheets in their two games in Singapore. On Wednesday, they drew 0-0 with Everton before losing 5-4 on penalties.

Stoke are in the process of reinforcing for the new English Premier League season, which starts on Aug 8. Hughes has already added seven players during the summer transfer window with the likes of Joselu, Glen Johnson, Shay Given and Marco van Ginkel.

The manager admitted that the club are now in the market for a fleet-footed forward. When asked if Stoke were eyeing reported target, Ukrainian winger Andriy Yarmolenko, Hughes replied: "We have had conversations with a lot of players and our connection with good players is good (for the club)."

"He (Yarmolenko) is the lad we hope to bring in if we can and we are hopeful to get a player of top, top quality, a player of his type."


This article was first published on July 19, 2015.
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