Shahril to fans: Back the Lions

Shahril to fans: Back the Lions
Singapore National team training for the preparations with two friendlies match against Hong Kong on 10 Oct and Macau on 14 Oct 2014.

He was the MVP of Singapore's victorious ASEAN Football Federation Suzuki Cup campaign in 2012 and the Lions will need a repeat of his inspirational performances from that tournament in this year's edition, which will be co-hosted by the Republic.

He scored the consolation goal for the Lions in their friendly against Hong Kong and will be counted on to deliver a win in the second tune-up against Macau on Tuesday.

David Lee sits down with Singapore skipper SHAHRIL ISHAK for a chat, as the Singapore national team continue their build-up to the defence of their ASEAN title on home soil next month.

1 This year's Singapore squad are likely to feature all 22 local-born players. What are your thoughts about that? Will the fans be more supportive?

SHAHRIL: Actually, the foreign talent are also Singaporeans and those who have worn the national team jersey have contributed, too.

There could be a small disadvantage because in previous editions, players like Mustafic (Fahrudin), (Shi) Jiayi, and (Aleksandar) Duric gave us an edge in terms of experience.

But it's not wrong to prepare for the future. We are in the process of rebuilding and we must believe in coach Bernd Stange's selection and direction.

Regardless, we hope the fans will be behind us because they give us such a big boost.

I'll always remember the packed stadiums we played in at Kallang or Jalan Besar because they were such special moments.

2 What do you think of our Group B rivals in the upcoming Suzuki Cup?

Thailand are always challengers for the title. Their Under-23s made the Asian Games semi-finals and the senior team will be a very strong side if they get the blend of youth and experience right.

Malaysia look like they are turning to experience by calling up older players like Indra Putra Mahayuddin and Shukor Adan. But we are always up for any Causeway Derby.

If Myanmar win the qualifiers, we will face Raddy (Avramovic) again. He will know all of us, and we know better than to take any qualifiers as walkovers in this tournament.

It will be tough, but we are playing at home. We want to win and we will give everything to achieve our target.

3 You've been out of the limelight for some time after signing for Johor Darul Ta'zim II in the second-tier Malaysian Premier League. How has it been for you over there?

It's a big challenge and motivation to be a Singaporean playing in a Malaysian team.

JDT II are a team full of youngsters with dreams of making it to JDT I and playing in the Malaysian Super League (MSL). My role is to guide them and I'll be very happy if some of them can make their way up.

I scored three times this season, which is not as many as previous seasons with the LionsXII, but that's because I'm no longer the target man. Now I play more in my usual role as supporting striker, providing more assists, and most of the players are still very raw.

It was disappointing to finish fifth this year and not be promoted, but we'll do better next season.

4 You are Singapore national captain and one of the best players in the country. Do you find it a step down to play in a lower league? Do you still feel confident of your role as national captain?

We beat the LionsXII in the Malaysia Cup and JDT II can match any team from the MSL. Seriously, the Premier League is very competitive as teams like PDRM, Penang, Felda, Kedah, Sabah and Negeri Sembilan are all desperate to be promoted.

Just look at the Malaysia Cup. Felda beat Selangor 7-3, while Kedah beat Kelantan 4-3 to make the semi-finals.

I'm still the same Shahril, more comfortable to do my talking through what I do on the pitch. I also constantly remind the attacking players of what to expect during matches. The national coach and players decide who the captain is, and I'm happy to guide the younger players with my experience.

5 While it's already almost a decade, it seems like just a while ago when you won your first ASEAN title in the 2005 Tiger Cup. You've won the 2007 and then the 2012 editions, too. How does it feel to be at the other end of the experience spectrum now and what is the crucial winning ingredient that the youngsters in today's team must grasp?

Time flies too fast and I'm playing in my sixth tournament now. In 2012, we had players with real character, such as Baihakki (Khaizan), Safuwan (Baharudin), Mustafic and Duric. Even after losing Hariss (Harun) to a broken leg, we showed great character to go on and win it. In 2007, we were at our peak. We dominated and won back-to-back championships.

In 2004, we went into the competition after the disappointment of 2002 when we lost 4-0 to Malaysia on home ground.

Nobody believed in the team, especially when our former coach Raddy picked eight youngsters for the tournament. But we believed in ourselves and played as a team and won against all odds.

Back then, senior players like Aide (Iskandar), S Subramani, Goh Tat Chuan, Hasrin Jailani and Noh Alam Shah would tell us that youngsters need to work doubly hard to prove ourselves to be special.

And I see similarities 10 years on. We have many youngsters now and they need to believe they can create something special.

They are fit and full of running but, throughout the 90 minutes, you must always know what you are going to do with the ball, even before you get it.

6 With the pitch a worry, the Football Association of Singapore has decided the Lions will not train or play any friendly at the new National Stadium to give the grass every chance to bed in. That means it won't be so much of a home-ground advantage because the Lions can't get used to it.

We are the home team. We should have the chance to train at the National Stadium, get used to the pitch, lighting, feel and make sure we get all the home-ground advantage we can get.

But the situation is what it is now and we'll just have to focus on our teamwork and team-play.

This article was first published on Oct 12, 2014.
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