He's wrapped up in cotton wool

LionsXII defender Safuwan Baharudin (left) receiving The New Paper's Player of the Season award from The New Paper editor Dominic Nathan

SINGAPORE - National coach Bernd Stange has made it clear with his squad selections that youth is the way forward for the Lions.

Almost half of the German's 23-man squad that are preparing to take on Oman in an Asian Cup Group A qualifier at the Jalan Besar Stadium on Aug 14 are under the age of 23.

He has also shown he is not afraid to blood teenagers like 17-year-old attacker Adam Swandi in the senior team.

But the 65-year-old is wary of pushing the young players too hard.

Defender Safuwan Baharudin has been conspicuous by his absence in the national team's first two training sessions over the weekend.

The 21-year-old was given time off for personal reasons, and to recuperate from a niggling ankle injury, and will join up with the squad on Monday.

Stange says that a break every now and then is good for a player like Safuwan, who has been playing competitive football almost non-stop since making his S-League debut in July 2009.

In addition to playing for the Courts Young Lions and then the LionsXII over the last four years, Safuwan has accumulated 26 caps for the Lions and also been in action for the Under-23 team at two SEA Games (in 2009 and 2011), and the 2010 Asian Games.

"A player like Safuwan must rest once in a while," said Stange, on the sidelines of the team's training session at the Jalan Besar Stadium on Sunday.

"He's very young, so we'll try to protect him and he cannot play all the time.

"He needs to learn that sitting on the bench sometimes is okay, too.

"If we look after him well enough, he is a player who can develop and play at a high international standard."

It is no secret Safuwan is one of the fittest players in the national squad.

But Stange joked that perhaps the centre half would do well to put on a bit of weight.

"We measured Safuwan's body fat and it is just three per cent," said the former Belarus coach.

"His body is so thin, it's like paper.

"If there was a fire near him, he would burn. He doesn't have enough fat on him."

Stange revealed that he had cases of players who suffered from burnout while he was in charge of Belarus from 2007 to 2011.

Both Martynovich, 25, and Putsila, 26, are now key players for Belarus.

"It is important young players sometimes don't play too much football," said Stange. "Look at Adam (Swandi). He's not ready to compete at the international stage now but in two years' time, he will be.

"But if he goes and plays every tournament - Under-17, Under-19, Under-21, Under-23 - from now on, he will not reach his potential. We need to look after him very carefully."

Stange knows getting a result against an Oman side ranked 57 rungs higher than the Lions in the Fifa rankings is an uphill task.

The goal will be to play at a fast tempo, and at Sunday's session, Stange continued to put his players through high-intensity drills.

Particularly interesting was a "5 v 3" drill where five free-roaming attackers took on a backline of three defenders, similar to former AC Milan coach Arrigo Sacchi's famous training method.

The aim was to sharpen the attackers' decision-making skills as they attempted to make their numerical advantage count, while the defenders dealt with the pressure they were under.


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