Singapore count on own 'SAS'

Singapore U23s' SAS: Sahil Suhaimi (left) and Shahfiq Ghani

SINGAPORE UNDER-23 v CAMBODIA UNDER-23

In the 1990s, there were Alan Shearer and Chris Sutton for Blackburn Rovers.

More recently, we've seen the rise of Liverpool's Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge.

At next month's South-east Asia (SEA) Games in Myanmar, Singapore will be counting on their local version of the "SAS" strike partnership between Shahfiq Ghani and Sahil Suhaimi.

Aide Iskandar's national Under-23 side have targeted a place in the final, but there are question marks over the team's attack after some poor showings in front of goal in recent friendly matches.

Their best bet to reach the final is to get Shahfiq and Sahil firing in tandem.

The two 21-year-olds scored a whopping 82 goals in the two seasons they played alongside each other for the National Football Academy (NFA) Under- 17 and Under-18 teams.

They haven't had many opportunities to partner each other in the last two years, mainly because of Sahil's national service commitments.

But the hotshots are confident they can soon pick up from where they left off.

LionsXII forward Shahfiq said: "I don't think it will take that long for us to click because we understand each other well. Hopefully we can get back to our best at the SEA Games."

Combined school teams

Shahfiq and Sahil first played together as 12-yearolds in a Combined Schools team, but the former was a central midfielder then.

It was only when they were both 17 that he was pushed up to play as a forward alongside Sahil.

And what a move it turned out to be.

Shahfiq scored 26 goals and Sahil notched 25, as the NFA Under-17s swept the Under-18 league title in 2008.

A year later and playing against bigger and older boys in the Under-23 Prime League, Sahil scored 16 goals and Shahfiq netted 15, as the Under-18s finished second.

Perhaps their telepathy on the pitch is not surprising, considering both used to live in Tampines, just blocks away from each other.

"We're close off the field, too," said Sahil. "We eat, chill out and watch movies together... We're on the same wavelength."

Shahfiq said their silky movement was borne out of a playing style implemented by former NFA coach Masanaga Kageyama.

Said the forward: "He taught us that whenever we are in the attacking third, one-touch football is the best way to take advantage of defenders, who will usually go in blindly.

"We started doing that and scored a lot of goals, so we just continued from there."

Aide is banking on his SAS partnership to deliver in Nyapyidaw, and is likely to give them a first start together in Sunday night's friendly match against Cambodia's Under-23 team.

"They've been playing together since they were young boys, so they know each other's styles," said the former national skipper. "Their biggest strength is their movement, because both are very mobile and they seem to have a telepathic understanding.

"The SEA Games is a good chance for them to reunite and show what they can do on the international stage."


Get The New Paper for more stories.