A solid backline was the platform for Singapore's success at the 2012 AFF Suzuki Cup - maybe even at the Republic's three victories before that - but there will be a slight difference at this year's tournament, from Nov 22 to Dec 20.
Two years ago, Baihakki Khaizan and Safuwan Baharudin were touted as the region's best central-defensive pairing, flanked by fullbacks Daniel Bennett and Shaiful Esah.
Bennett, then aged 34, brought positional sense and experience, while Shaiful came with his cultured left foot to provide ammunition from set-pieces.
When the Suzuki Cup kicks off at the Singapore Sport Hub - which co-hosts the tournament with Vietnam - speedy wing-backs will be key to the defending champions under Bernd Stange.
"Wing-backs who are not fast and strong will not play in my team.
"I choose only players who are able to overlap, coming from behind, with 10-15 sprints per game, and to give the final pass as (Germany captain, Philipp) Lahm did for Germany against Brazil," said the 66-year-old in an e-mail interview, pointing to Germany's 7-1 semi-final demolition of the World Cup hosts last week.
Stange is in Austria with both the national and Under-23 sides. The seniors drew 2-2 with Czech top-tier side Brno, while the juniors fell 6-1 to another Czech side, FC Pribram.
Tampines Rovers' Shaiful, 28, and speedy LionsXII fullback, Faritz Hameed, lined up in the seniors' fixture, with the younger and quicker Shakir Hamzah, 21, coming on to replace Shaiful in the 56th minute.
At press time last night, the U-23s were preparing to face Borussia Dortmund's U-23s.
Today, the seniors meet Russian second-division side Torpedo Moscow, before Monday's final friendly with Dinamo Moscow.
But some things will remain, especially having 22-year-old Safuwan taking on defensive duties, instead of going forward, as he often does with the LionsXII.
"I completely agree with coach Fandi Ahmad using Safuwan as an attacking midfielder, due to the shortage of players in the LionsXII," said the former Iraq and Belarus coach.
"(But) I see Safuwan's strengths in being a central defender or a defensive midfielder. These are the two main positions Safuwan will be playing in my team."
While Baihakki and Safuwan are set to line up in the heart of Singapore defence, Stange will not close the door to the likes of Madhu Mohana and Afiq Yunos, or to defenders in S.League clubs.
But Courts Young Lions - effectively the Singapore U-23 side - defenders are still not ready for international football, said Stange of the team who are 11th in the 12-team league table.
"I saw all Young Lions players and their matches in the S.League, and during the training trip to Turkey in January. They are not ready physically to play at this level," he said.
"They need more time and experience, maybe one or two more tournaments.
"I know many of our young players are dreaming to get closer to this type of top-level football. I am delighted to see the players' passion and commitment in the two training sessions per day, every day, which we have planned here in Austria."
This article was first published on July 18, 2014.
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