Lions defence under scrutiny

It was their air-tight defence that helped Singapore fend off the Thai onslaught in the second leg of the final to lift the Suzuki Cup last year.

Sparked by a steely defence, the LionsXII stormed to this season's Malaysian Super League title.

Over the last two months, however, the national team defenders, made up largely of LionsXII players, have not been enjoying their outings.

As a unit, they've conceded nine goals in their last three international friendlies - all defeats - including six against China last month.

In the Malaysia Cup, the LionsXII, featuring national defenders Baihakki Khaizan, Safuwan Baharudin, Shakir Hamzah, Faritz Abdul Hameed and goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud, shipped 11 goals in eight games.

This included the four against ATM FA last Friday, which saw the Singapore outfit exit the tournament at the quarter- final stage.

It is a worrying run, but Baihakki and Co. are confident of keeping a clean sheet when Bernd Stange's Lions take on Laos in an international friendly on Thursday night at Jalan Besar Stadium.

The 29-year-old, capped 101 times, told The New Paper on Tuesday: "We are not robots. We also feel the effects of knocks and strains, we face pressure in our job and we have to fight the mental strain.

"In football, it's easier to forget missed chances in front of goal than the mistakes that lead to a goal.

"To be honest, we were just not the same level as Oman and China, and China were really on form that night when they beat us 6-1.

"The national team are still in a transitional phase but we are optimistic about getting the hang of the new style soon, and we will continue to do our best and try to get a good result."

Laos, 172nd in the Fifa rankings, are 13 rungs below Singapore, but they are not the team that lost 11-0 to the Lions in 2007.

In their last two meetings, Laos managed to score five goals, even though Singapore did emerge victorious - 4-3 and 5-2 - on both occasions.

Midfield general Hariss Harun believes Singapore still have the best defence in the region despite the recent blip.

The 22-year-old said: "Laos have improved vastly with the influence of their Japanese coach. Their players are small and fast, their fullbacks overlap, their wingers cut in and try to get into pockets of space between the centre backs.

"It is not just about the goalkeeper and the four defenders at the back to try to stop them. We have to defend as a team."

The defence will be missing Safuwan, who suffered a torn tricep in the defeat by ATM.

Even as he tries to impose his brand of attacking football, national coach Stange knows the importance of a clean sheet.

The 65-year-old German said: "If I have demands for overlapping wing backs, we have to learn to close the gaps on the pitch.

"If we concede one, we make it difficult for ourselves because we have to score two to win.

"Defending is not about the four defenders.

We have to start defending from the attacking areas. In that aspect, we have been very poor because we rarely win the ball in the attacking third.

"So even as we learn to attack in the way I want the players to, we must also learn to defend as a team."

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