Football: Lions get confidence booster

After seven previous football matches this year that yielded just one win, Bernd Stange's Singapore team finally got the victory they needed yesterday.

The Lions beat Laos 2-0 at Yishun Stadium in their penultimate friendly match before the ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup, giving the defending champions a vital confidence boost before the biennial meet.

The win had everything the national coach was looking for - majority possession, goals, good combination play in attack and a clean sheet for the defence, which conceded in the past three games.

Said Stange: "It was a well-deserved win, what we needed, a good result, and the most important thing I see is the clean sheet, that we did not allow a goal... how we defended, how we played, especially in the first half.

"We lost petrol in the second-half... but it is difficult to play 90 minutes on this (slippery) pitch."

The German added that he is close to finalising his strongest XI and yesterday's line-up offered a hint of how he can cram in all the attackers.

Laos coach David Booth praised the Lions, saying: "Singapore passed the ball well, moved it from side to side very well, their long diagonal balls hurt us a little bit, especially in the first half.

"Singapore were very solid at the back, they have got a good goalkeeper (Hassan Sunny). We never really got into their penalty box."

Courts Young Lions striker Sahil Suhaimi provided a focal point up front, and while he did not get on the scoresheet, he occupied Laos' defence with his pace and tenacity. On the flanks were Faris Ramli and Khairul Amri. Faris tormented the full-backs with his trickery while Amri was a threat cutting in from wide positions.

In fact, it was the duo who combined for Singapore's second goal in the 32nd minute, after Baihakki Khaizan had headed Singapore in front after five minutes from a Shaiful Esah corner.

Faris beat his marker and whipped in a pin-point cross and Amri, who has 21 international strikes, nodded the ball home.

Captain Shahril Ishak was influential at the tip of a midfield triangle, with Shahdan Sulaiman and Hariss Harun anchoring the base.

The trio impressed with their ball retention ability.

Shahril, who recovered from a torn hamstring last month, was back to his best, shielding the ball and linking play even with two or three defenders harrying him.

Admittedly, the victory came against a Laos side widely considered the weakest team in the AFF Cup. The Lions were also not at ease with Stange's philosophy of pressing high up the pitch, with some players looking unsure of who to close down.

Acknowledging that observation, he said: "If you dominate the game, it is only normal to allow counter-attacks.

"I don't over-estimate this result against Laos; better teams are coming soon but it's a good way to take confidence."

They play Cambodia on Monday in their final friendly before the AFF Cup, which starts on Nov 23 with a Group B game against Thailand at the National Stadium.

This article was first published on Nov 14, 2014.
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