Mission Suzuki Cup starts now

GROUP A

OMAN v SINGAPORE (Tonight, 9.30pm, StarHub TV Ch 112/201 & 76.25MHz)

The stage will be the glittering new 55,000-capacity National Stadium.

The mission will be to successfully defend the ASEAN title.

And the auditions kick off tonight.

Bottom of Group A and needing a miracle to qualify - the Lions must shock the group leaders with a big win in Muscat and also require a string of results elsewhere to go their way - for the 2015 Asian Cup Finals, Singapore's clash with Oman in their final qualifier tonight is all but inconsequential.

But national coach Bernd Stange has warned his men that their performances, starting tonight, will decide who makes the final cut of 20 for the 2014 AFF Suzuki Cup, which Singapore will host at the end of the year.

Speaking to The New Paper on Tuesday, Stange, 65, said: "We have an important challenge with the Suzuki Cup coming up and every match we have till then is a nomination match for the future.

"This is also a chance for some players who are struggling in the Malaysian Super League (MSL) to show how good they are, and who can make the step up to play at this higher level in Asia.

"I also hope that the Courts Young Lions players will make big progress."

Singapore are the record four-time champions of ASEAN, and lifted the trophy in 2012 after defeating Thailand in the final.

That was the last of Radojko Avramovic's three Suzuki Cup wins with the Lions, and Stange is now the coach pulling the strings as the team, with a number of younger players, build towards this year's challenge.

TALENTED

Stange singled out midfielder Zulfahmi Arifin and forward Shahfiq Ghani as talented LionsXII players who have yet to live up to their billing in the MSL this year, adding that injuries and lack of playing time didn't help their cause.

They will at least play some part in tonight's fixture, along with some others.

"Depending on his fitness, I may also give Faris Ramli the full 90 minutes to prove himself," said Stange.

"I believe in these boys; there are no better boys.

"But it is important they show us they deserve to be part of this exciting journey with our new home at the Sports Hub's National Stadium.

"Looking at teams like Oman gives us an idea of the level we should be striving to be playing at."

While Oman have not been firing on all cylinders - Paul Le Guen's side scored just four goals in five matches - they have been efficient, securing 11 points out of a possible 15.

The Lions will do well to improve on their leaky defence, which has shipped in 14 goals in five qualifiers.

And they will have to do it without suspended centre back Baihakki Khaizan and injured goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud, who twisted his ankle in training.

Warriors FC custodian Hassan Sunny and LionsXII defender Afiq Yunos are set to fill in.

Due to fitness issues, forwards Iqbal Hussain, Sahil Suhaimi and Khairul Amri did not travel and that means the Lions have only skipper Shahril Ishak and Shahfiq Ghani as recognised attackers.


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