Football: Rested, not ring rusty

All signs point to Singapore's upcoming AFF Suzuki Cup squad having a strong representation of LionsXII players.

When the Lions won their fourth ASEAN crown two years ago, 12 of former coach Radojko Avramovic's 22-man squad were from the Malaysian Super League side.

They also make up 13 of Bernd Stange's 19-man Lions squad that left this morning for an international friendly against Bahrain in Riffa.

But the LionsXII's last competitive game was a 3-1 Malaysia Cup group-stage defeat by Felda United on Sept 2, which ended their season.

By the time Singapore's first Suzuki Cup game against Thailand on Nov 23 rolls round, it would mean the squad would have gone two-and-a-half months without playing a competitive game.

Some would say the lengthy spell without competitive football will dull the Lions' competitive edge, but Singapore skipper Shahril Ishak doesn't think so.

The 30-year-old attacking midfielder has gone even longer without competitive football, after he suffered a hamstring strain in mid-August and his club side, Johor Darul Ta'zim II, were also eliminated from the Malaysia Cup at the same time as Lions XII.

Speaking to The New Paper on the sidelines of the launch of the Lions' Suzuki Cup kit yesterday, Shahril said: "I think the long break is good for us.

"Personally, I feel like the rest makes me fresher for the Suzuki Cup.

"In fact, I felt one of the reasons for my hamstring injury was that I overworked it.

"Since then, I've recovered well. And in the last two months, the national team have trained at a very high intensity under Sasha (fitness coach Aleksandar Bozenko), so our fitness levels are good.

"And, even though we've only played two international friendlies, those games have been of a good competitive level and I think we are shaping up well."

Singapore are co-hosts, along with Vietnam, for the biennial Suzuki Cup and are in Group B, alongside Thailand, Malaysia and an Avramovic-inspired Myanmar.

Last month, the Lions played away against Hong Kong and Macau in sparring matches. They lost 2-1 to Hong Kong and drew 2-2 with Macau.

A month earlier, they beat Papua New Guinea 2-1 and drew 0-0 draw with Hong Kong at home, before an Under-23 squad played three matches against Palestine, Tajikistan and Oman at the Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea.

A few of the youngsters that featured in South Korea - who largely turn out for the LionsXII and the Courts Young Lions - are expected to make the cut for the Suzuki Cup.


And Shahril believes Singapore's gamble on youth could pay off.

"The squad now is all-local born, it's a different set of players from the team that won the ASEAN title in 2012, but I still believe we can achieve something.

"We are totally focused, fit and ready to compete, and we have many talented young players," he said. "They just have to show what they can do."

One of those young guns is winger Faris Ramli.

The 22-year-old was shortlisted by Avramovic for the 2012 campaign, but missed out after he enlisted for National Service.

Said Faris: "It's going to be a hell of a ride for me to play this Suzuki Cup in front of 55,000 people at the new National Stadium at the Sports Hub, and I can't wait to play.

"Yes, there's a lot of expectation on us. But, for me, it's simple. Every time you don the national jersey, you need to show why you got the chance.

"Plus, the pressure can be good in a sense it keeps us on our toes.

"I feel there's enough talent in this squad.

"Now, we need to play like champions."

This article was first published on November 4, 2014.
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