Building team spirit while tackling tougher rivals

For the past 12 days, national football captain Shahril Ishak has woken up to a view of lush fields amid majestic mountains.

While he is far from Singapore in the small Austrian town Flachau, where the temperature is about 20 deg C and the air light and fresh, it was anything but a relaxing vacation for him.

Since July 7, he and the rest of the Singapore national team have been in the midst of a 16-day training camp to prepare for their ASEAN Football Federation Suzuki Cup title defence in November.

They have been undergoing intensive twice-daily training sessions to hone the quick-paced, pass-and-move football that national coach Bernd Stange demands.

The squad train on zippy football pitches - "carpet-like", according to Stange - which move the ball around quickly and encourages players to work on their rapid passes and on-field movements.

Stange, 66, told The Sunday Times: "Even if the field we train on gets badly damaged, there is daily maintenance to ensure it is restored to as good as new the next morning."

A day in the training camp starts at 8am when the squad assembles for weight and fat control before going for breakfast. The first training session at 10am lasts for 90 minutes.

Transport to and from the training ground is via a 500m bicycle ride, which, Stange added, contributes to conditioning work on the players.

After breaking for lunch and recovery sessions that involves massages and physiotherapy, the players regroup for another training session at 5pm, this time lasting two hours.

"The training has been tough since we got here...but that should be the way if we want to achieve more and rise to the next level," said Shahril, 30.

Not only has this Europe stint added fresh impetus to training through a change in surroundings, but training in a country that many top European sides descend upon for pre-season training has also allowed the 154th-ranked Lions to test their mettle against stronger opposition.

They drew 2-2 against Czech top-tier side FK Brno but lost 0-3 to newly promoted top-flight Russian outfit Torpedo Moscow, and will face a Dynamo Moscow side boasting the likes of Yuri Zhirkov and Kevin Kuranyi tomorrow.

"We won't be able to face opponents like them in such a short period if we were to have our training camp in Singapore," added Stange.

To break the monotony of training, the Lions toured neighbouring city Salzburg, and will visit a 3,000m-high glacier as well as the Allianz Arena, home to German giants Bayern Munich, before coming back home next Wednesday.

Despite being away from their families at home thousands of kilometres away, the players believe this camp can give them the edge they need to win a record fifth ASEAN title.

"This training camp helps to remove all distractions and build a stronger team spirit, as all of us have only one another to rely on," said national goalkeeper Hassan Sunny.

This article was first published on July 20, 2014.
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