SEA Games: Aide calls for defensive focus

SEA Games: Aide calls for defensive focus

Fans are used to seeing Singapore football teams blow hot and cold, from one match to the next.

When expected to steamroller the opposition, they huff and puff and struggle to come away with a win.

Often, when the Lions or Young Lions face tough odds, against highly-rated opponents, the Singaporeans lift their game and do the nation proud.

The Under-23s' performance at the 27th South-east Asia (SEA) Games in Myanmar follows the trend.

Aide Iskandar's men were expected to beat their Laotian counterparts convincingly on the opening day of Group A, but were held 1-1 after conceding a late equaliser off a set-piece.

Backs against the wall, few would have predicted the Young Lions to beat free-scoring Vietnam in their second game, but they emerged with a clean sheet and a 1-0 victory that resurrected their hopes of a place in the semi-finals.

They drew 1-1 - also conceding a late equaliser through a free-kick - with two-time defending champions Malaysia to confirm their spot in the last four.

They face Thailand on Thursday for a place in the final, and if Aide's side are to make Singapore's first SEA Games final since 1989, then the defence surely needs to tighten up even more.

ATTACK

Struggling for goals pre-tournament, the U-23s attack was identified as the team's weakest link.

However, the Young Lions have scored in every group game. Even though main forward Shahfiq Ghani has been misfiring, the three-goal Sahil Suhaimi has proven to be a revelation in his first outing at the Games.

Five goals in four games ensured they qualified for the last four.

Speaking to The New Paper on Monday, Aide said: "We don't have the luxury of other countries who can afford to rest star strikers. But we play to our strengths.

"Sahil has been superb, but he must keep his feet on the ground and work harder.

"Shahfiq has been average, but he's working hard on his game and I believe he will come good, especially as teams could be focusing more on Sahil now."

DEFENCE

Strong in the air, quick on the ground and tactically disciplined, the back four led by the outstanding Safuwan Baharudin form the strongest department in the side.

They have conceded only two goals, keeping two clean sheets.

But the defence have also shown they are prone to lapses in concentration late in the game, conceding equalisers in the 86th minute against Laos and in the first minute of injury time against Malaysia.

"Overall, we've done really well in defence," said Aide.

"The goals we conceded do happen even in top-level football. It's a lesson learnt on keeping absolute focus for 90 minutes and even injury time.

"We've not conceded from open play, which is pleasing, but we need to work on defending set-plays."

SET-PIECES

It is no secret that the Young Lions' main attacking threat come from set-plays.

Ironically, the two goals they've conceded have also come from set-pieces by Laos and Malaysia.

Centre back Afiq Yunos said: "Our defence have been generally good. We have been compact and winning high balls.

"But our marking and positioning while defending the free-kick against Laos were off and we lacked communication.

"So we need to improve on that because Thailand are capable of superb deliveries."

Aide just wants his players not to give away silly fouls in dangerous areas, especially late on.

The 38-year-old said: "Every team have their own set-piece specialist and late free-kicks can prove costly."

At the other end, the former national captain said his team will continue to bank on set-pieces to get the goals, if that is what it takes to win.

"It's no secret we have players like Safuwan and Afiq who are good in the air and we have players like Shahfiq and Zulfahmi (Arifin) who are good with their deliveries," said Aide.

"We will keep doing what we are good at, and work on the variety to keep our opponents guessing."


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