Suzuki Cup: Young Lions in the line of fire

Suzuki Cup: Young Lions in the line of fire

They were thrown into the deep end, handed ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup debuts in their opening Group B clash against regional powerhouses Thailand on Sunday.

It was sink or swim time for Sahil Suhaimi and Faris Ramli and, unfortunately for the pair of 22-year-olds, their performance left much to be desired as the Lions, defending ASEAN champions, lost 2-1 in their first game at the new 55,000-capacity National Stadium.

While winger Faris was expected to start, it was the inclusion of talented striker Sahil on the right wing that raised eyebrows.

The stocky youngster proved a success as an out-an-out forward for the Courts Young Lions, ending the season as the highest-scoring local player in the S.League with 10 goals despite playing in a team who finished third from bottom.

Marooned in an unfamiliar position, the 1.67m-tall Sahil struggled to make an impact going forward as he had to track back to help the team defend.

He told The New Paper last night: "The day before the game, we talked about tactics and the line-up, so I knew my role. "But it was still a lot of pressure to play on the right wing for my country for the first time.

"It even kept me up a bit that night but, eventually, I managed to sleep off (my worries).

"It's not an easy job on the wing (and) I think I defended more than I attacked, but I think I did pretty well." Sahil was sniped online after the game, after his girlfriend put up a picture of the couple taken after the final whistle.

He brushed aside the negative comments, and said: "The social media thing doesn't really affect me. "I've been getting the (abuse) even before last night. So when I read the comments, I just smile to myself.

"I know my family and loved ones back me, and that's all that matters." Singapore take on a Myanmar side tomorrow led by former Lions coach Radojko Avramovic and Bernd Stange's men will be desperate for a win, to set up a potential blockbuster in their final group clash against Malaysia on Saturday.

Lions assistant coach Aide Iskandar, who spoke to the press in the place of national coach Stange, explained the decision to start Sahil out wide.

Said Aide: "Bernd wanted to fill that right wing position and felt that, at that point of time, Sahil was the best person for the spot.

POOR DECISION-MAKING

"We have to give these boys (Sahil and Faris) time, because this is their first Suzuki Cup.

"These two have plenty to offer and there are better things to come from them. Maybe they can start with the Myanmar game (tomorrow)."

The former Singapore skipper added that, while Sahil and Faris did not have outstanding games, they did "generally well". Faris received brickbats for failing to set up teammates after being put through in promising positions when the score was 1-1.

In the 25th minute, with an unmarked Khairul Amri frantically calling for the ball in the box, a heavy touch let Faris down and the ball bobbled out for a goal-kick.

And in the 75th minute, he elected to shoot from a tight angle into the side netting when skipper Shahril Ishak was free in the middle. It was a demoralising night for the youngster, who enjoyed a successful 2014, scoring eight goals for club side LionsXII and also firing in a beauty for Singapore against Oman at the Asian Games in September.

Faris admitted the botched incidents against Thailand gave him a restless night. "I felt I did quite well, except for my decision-making in those two instances," he said yesterday.

"My final ball was what I was really pissed off with... but I feel better today.

"Some of the senior players gave me advice and told me to look ahead, and so did coach Bernd.

"So far I've been delivering and two bad decisions do not mean (anything)... I badly want to make up for them."


This article was first published on November 25, 2014.
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