Rested Lions return to the grind

SINGAPORE - A festive holiday and a celebrity appearance at the National Day parade kept the Singapore national team away from the football pitch last Thursday and Friday.

With an all-important Asian Cup qualifier against Oman on Wednesday, the Lions can ill-afford the time-off.

They had to make up for lost preparations on Saturday, reporting for training at the Jalan Besar Stadium as early as 7.30am.

The early session was due to the LionsXII's dinner reception at the Istana last night.

The Malaysian Super League champions, who comprise the bulk of the national team, made a star turn during the National Day Parade on Friday.

For team captain Shahril Ishak, two days of rest were more than he hoped for. Given the massive task of beating Oman at Jalan Besar, training had to resume as soon as possible.

"We had to train (on Saturday) morning. We couldn't afford not to, even though it's the Hari Raya period right now," Shahril said.

"Oman surprised some of us by coming here a week early to prepare. It shows they are a no-nonsense team, who are very serious about the game.

"We have to be well prepared for the match ourselves."

Shahril and midfielder Isa Halim admitted the break was not ideal towards preparations for such a big match. But they insisted the squad have been successfully working around the tight schedule.

Emphasis during training the past week has been on fitness and speed.

To get their bodies working at full tempo again on Saturday, the Singapore squad went through a lengthy, high-intensity warm-up session led by fitness coach Aleksandar Bozenko.

Said Isa: "The players are all still inseason, so fitness levels are not a problem. We've been working on speed, making short bursts during training. That's where we aim to take advantage of Oman."

Coach Bernd Stange has yet to reveal who would start on Wednesday.

Aside from fitness, the German's other priority has been to inculcate a one-touch style of football to the players.

"We don't know who will start against Oman. For now, it feels as if everyone still has a chance to play," Shahril said.

"That has made training very enjoyable so far. It's about getting used to coach Stange's style of football and building team spirit. I'm sure we will be getting down to serious business the next few days."

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