Football: National team comes first

HECTIC SCHEDULE: Defender Safuwan Baharudin is expected to play for his club side, LionsXII, 72 hours after representing Singapore in their Asian Cup qualifier against Oman.

SINGAPORE - He will field his best players in Singapore's Asian Cup qualifier against Oman in Muscat next Wednesday and that means national coach Bernd Stange will probably select seven men from the LionsXII.

This, despite the fact that the Malaysian Super League (MSL) side have a huge game against second-placed Kelantan at the Jalan Besar Stadium just 72 hours later.

The 20-man Singapore squad include 11 players from the LionsXII and Stange is widely expected to field the MSL team's first-choice back four in the match, which is a dead rubber since the Lions have no chance of qualifying for the finals next year.

Speaking to The New Paper after the announcement of the national squad for Oman on Wednesday, the German said he would consider giving some of the first-team players a rest if Singapore are losing the game.

Insisting he saw no issue with player fatigue, Stange said: "The team are made up of young boys who should be fit enough to play two games in four days.

"But it depends on how the match goes. If we are drawing against Oman, I will not make changes to rest players."

Singapore are bottom of Group A, while Oman and Jordan - in first and second respectively - have already qualified. Syria are in third spot.

The Lions will return to Singapore the day after the match on an 11-hour flight and a three-hour transit in Kuala Lumpur.

That leaves LionsXII coach Fandi Ahmad just one day to prepare his charges for the Kelantan game on March 8 (Saturday).

Stange, 65, is aware of the rigours of travel, but wants the national players to adapt to the tight, hectic schedule.

He said: "If we are to get to the next level, the players must adapt to the Wednesday and Saturday match schedule.

OMAN THE PRIORITY

"That is how it's like in Europe, so there is nothing controversial about this.

"Of course, the long-distance travelling is not (ideal). We tried to postpone the MSL game (but) you have to ask the opponents why that wasn't possible.

"Oman is an international match and our priorities are clear.

"As I've said before, matches against bigger teams are important for our world ranking."

Star defender Safuwan Baharudin, who is a key figure for the LionsXII and the national team, says he is used to such a tight schedule, having played in the MSL for the past three years.

He, did, however, express concern over the possibility of picking up an injury.

"It's difficult to completely put aside the Kelantan match, because that is one of the biggest MSL games of the season," said the 22-year-old.

"Normally, playing on Wednesday and then on Saturday will be fine.

"But the travelling for this match will be tough, especially because of the transit.

"Hopefully, we'll recover well. In the past, in similar situations, the body did feel (the strain).

"But it's also a mental thing. We have to accept and adapt to these things."

aakasim@sph.com.sg


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