'Pool have real chance'
Lewandowski backs 'ruthless' Klopp to lead Reds to title tilt
Infantino wants 48 teams for World Cup
Spain in better shape than Italy
Out: Sterling, Johnson; In: Keane, Townsend
Skipper Rooney calls for unity
Southgate brings hope
Southgate's steely resolve can galvanise soft Lions
WORLD CUP QUALIFIER (GROUP F)
ENGLAND v MALTA
(Saturday, 11.55pm, Singtel TV Ch 109 - ELEVEN)
The Three Lions are still rubbish and Sam Allardyce was revealed to be a money-grabbing braggart who orchestrated his own downfall.
It's important to reiterate these points at the outset to avoid tumbling again into that pit of delusion, a common hazard when discussing the England manager.
In recent days, a couple of daft assertions have inevitably crept to the fore.
First, Gareth Southgate's inexperience and overwhelming niceness will hinder his progress at international level.
And second, the Three Lions deserve a manager with a higher profile. Actually, no they don't.
The over-indulged, under-performing collection of bumbling, bulging wallets got the manager they deserved in Allardyce.
He was English. He was old-school. His arrogance was as ludicrous as it was unwarranted (his initials were monogrammed on his cuffs for his first England press conference. Big Sam opted for "SA", although "BS" now seems more fitting).
Allardyce's belief in the innate superiority of both himself and English football convinced him that "Singaporean businessmen" would pay £400,000 ($704,000) to hear his waffle. His ego destroyed him.
So in the case of England, nice guys don't finish last. Bluffers and blunderers do.
The Three Lions have suffered enough at the hands of the latter, so what harm can Southgate really do?
In the last 15 years, England ticked the checklist of recruitment cliches, pandering to the popular trends of the day.
There was the foreign manager with the air of an analytical boffin; the hand-reared tracksuit coach promoted from within; the Italian disciplinarian hired to control the rich and infamous; the safe, political choice after the dressing room revolt and the proud patriot. England tried them all.
And they all failed.
In those context, Southgate isn't a risk, but a practical and even necessary alternative.
His first press conference was measured and controlled and the 46-year-old should now enjoy a benign honeymoon.
Beginning with Malta on Sunday morning (Singapore time), England's upcoming World Cup qualification fixtures are so gentle, Wayne Rooney could slot in at right back, and still not jeopardise their chances of victory.
Besides, there's something about Southgate, something about his demeanour - not to mention the dramatic circumstances of his appointment - that offers the faintest glimmer of hope.
His friend Alan Pardew remembers Southgate as a young, skinny defender at Crystal Palace.
He wasn't very good.
According to Pardew, Southgate relied on two discernible qualities to take his limited talents all the way to the Euro 1996 semi-finals: an uncompromising work ethic and a rare intellect.
The England centre back earned 57 caps, not by being the best, but the brightest.
At Crystal Palace, Aston Villa and then Middlesbrough as both player and manager, Southgate developed a reputation for being the cleverest man in the dressing room. He read not only the game, but the people around him.
But intelligence isn't necessarily a shortcut to inspiration.
In fact, Southgate famously savaged Sven-Goran Eriksson for his uninspired team talks.
When England came in at half-time of the 2002 World Cup quarter-final against Brazil, Southgate said: "We wanted Winston Churchill and we got Iain Duncan Smith."
Sceptics are now comparing Southgate with the dull Conservative politician rather than the great wartime leader, but the comparison isn't fair.
A steely resolve has underpinned his career, from that scrawny kid at Palace to the Toulon Tournament-winning coach with England's Under-21s.
It's well documented that Southgate suffered the ignominy of missing the decisive sixth penalty in the Euro 1996 semi-final shoot-out against Germany.
What is less remembered is that he wasn't supposed to take a penalty. He stepped up only because certain teammates shrank in the spotlight.
When they went hiding, Southgate put his hand up.
And at the age of 35, the rookie Boro coach succeeded where other, more experienced managers had often failed.
He got the best out of temperamental Aussie striker Mark Viduka.
So Southgate will not wilt under the pressure of playing Malta. Nor will he have any difficulty working with the likes of Marcus Rashford, young footballers he has already nurtured with the Under-21s.
He's a cool head for chaotic times.
After the Allardyce circus, there's no need to send in any more clowns.
When I first got into the squad, he was in the squad then. He's done a very good job with the U-21s, and he's got an opportunity to show what he can do at senior level.
— Wayne Rooney on interim manager Gareth Southgate
Shahril could be back in S.League
National captain also holding out for offers from Malaysia and Thailand when JDT II stint ends
National football captain and former S.League Player of the Year Shahril Ishak could make a return to the S.League as soon as next season.
The 32-year-old's contract with Johor Darul Ta'zim II runs out at the end of the season and is unlikely to be renewed.
Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim - Crown Prince of Johor and chairman of JDT - had written on the club's website and Facebook page that Shahril and fellow Singapore international Baihakki Khaizan "will not be a part of our project for next year", before thanking them for their dedication and professionalism.
"I would like to return and play in the S.League some day. It is where I started my career and it means something special to me," 2010 S.League Player of the Year Shahril told The New Paper before the national team training session yesterday.
"It could be as soon as next year, or it could be later. It depends on the offers I have and I will have to discuss them with my family to decide what is best for us.
"Of course, I'm realistic enough to expect a pay cut after leaving JDT. But I feel I'm still capable of playing in Malaysia.
"If an offer comes from Thailand, after their import rules changed to include one Asean player in their quota, I will also strongly consider playing there for a year."
Before the emergence of Hariss Harun, now a key player and AFC Cup winner with JDT I, Shahril and Baihakki were Singapore football's poster boys.
As recent as 2011, the duo had signed for Indonesian club Medan Chiefs on a two-year $384,000 contract.
I would like to return and play in the S.League some day. It is where I started my career and it means something special to me. — Shahril Ishak (near left), at national team training with Irfan Fandi (red bib) and Shakir Hamzah PHOTO: STRAITS TIMES
The following year, they returned to Singapore to play for the LionsXII in the Malaysian Super League (MSL).
In the 2012 Suzuki Cup, Shahril was named the Most Valuable Player and Baihakki grabbed the winning goal against Thailand in the final.
Despite their soaring stock, they turned down a move to the Thai league and won the MSL with the LionsXII in 2013. They turned heads when they signed up to play in the second-tier Malaysian Premier League with JDT II in 2014.
While Baihakki's 1.90m frame and composure make him almost indispensable in the heart of the national team's defence, Shahril's perceived lack of pace cost him a starting place under former national coach Bernd Stange.
Although he scored the opener in a rare start in Stange's last home game in charge as Singapore beat Myanmar 2-1, V Sundramoorthy has yet to start Shahril in his four 'A' internationals since taking over, even as he has recalled older warhorses such as Daniel Bennett and Mustafic Fahrudin.
LACK OF GOALS
While goals have not been forthcoming for the national team, with just three scored in four matches - Myanmar (1-0), Vietnam (0-3), Cambodia (1-2) and Bahrain (1-3) - Shahril is still unlikely to start in the Causeway Challenge against Malaysia at the National Stadium on Friday.
True to his down-to-earth nature, Shahril, who has 134 caps according to Fifa, said: "This is football. I understand that things will not always go my way and the time will come to move on at club and international level.
"I can only keep giving my best in training and whenever I get the chance to play.
"Of course, I'm not used to being benched. I feel that I can still contribute and I have proven that I can still do so at club and international level."
Meanwhile, sources have told TNP that Baihakki could still play with JDT II for another season as he has one more year with the club on his contract.
While the defender declined comment as the matter is still not resolved, it is understood that the 32-year-old, who has 126 caps, will enter discussions with Tunku Ismail after returning from next Tuesday's away match against Hong Kong.
A football treat for Pertapis Children's Home
Hassan Sunny hopes to make amends
Lions goalkeeper determined to thwart arch-rivals Malaysia
SINGAPORE v MALAYSIA
(Friday, 8pm, Singtel TV Ch 109 - Eleven)
He says he hardly lost any sleep over what happened.
But there is no doubt national goalkeeper Hassan Sunny will be out to prove a point, when Singapore take on Malaysia in their Causeway Challenge clash at the National Stadium on Friday.
After all, the last time the Malaysians visited Kallang, just under two years ago at the AFF Suzuki Cup, it was a night to forget for Hassan.
With Singapore trailing 2-1 in injury time, the shot-stopper strode the length of the field in a desperate attempt to help his side draw level, after the Lions were awarded a free-kick.
National captain Shahril Ishak whipped the ball into the box and Hassan flung all of his 1.84m, 85kg body towards it, but missed.
Malaysia launched a counter-attack, and Indra Putra Mahayuddin eventually rolled the ball into an empty goal to cap off a 3-1 win, which knocked Singapore out of the tournament at the group stage.
Worse was to come for Hassan, who was mercilessly mocked online by football fans across the Causeway.
A video of Singapore singer-songwriter Taufik Batisah's song "Awak kat mana?" (Where are you?) tweaked to "Keeper kat mana?", with an actor donning Hassan's jersey spoofing him being lost in public places, also went viral.
"I saw the taunts, the comments, the video... But no, it doesn't bother me at all," Hassan told The New Paper after training yesterday, with a laugh.
"I'm strong enough to carry all this. It's part and parcel of football, especially from the opposition fans.
"I took the risk, things didn't go my way, but that doesn't mean that was the reason we lost."
Indeed, the 32-year-old shot stopper only went from strength to strength after the Suzuki Cup disappointment.
While he lost the No. 1 spot in the national team to Izwan Mahbud - who produced a Man-of-the-Match performance in the famous 0-0 draw with Japan in Saitama in a World Cup qualifier in June 2015 - for a period, Hassan's form has been on the rise since he signed for Thai side Army United before the start of the 2015 season.
He even made it to British newspaper The Telegraph's list of top 20 goalkeepers in the world, in April this year.
Hassan, who was named the S.League Player of the Year in 2014 after winning the title with Warriors FC, said: "Everyone knows that if you play at a high level, you become a better player.
"I can't say I'm at the best team in Thailand but, with the training I get and the level of the Thai league, I feel like I'm playing an international game week in, week out.
"I've learnt a lot from this overseas stint. That's why when I come back with the national team, I share with the boys what it's like to play against teams like Chonburi every week."
Hassan is eager to show local fans just how much playing in the Thai league has improved his game.
"I'm not sure if I'll start but, given a chance, of course I want to do well because it's a big game for us," he said.
"We're talking about the Singapore-Malaysia rivalry, and it's all the more important now since it is just six weeks to the Suzuki Cup."
National coach V Sundramoorthy played his cards close to his chest about team selection ahead of Friday's match, and praised both Hassan and Izwan.
"Both of them are really good goalkeepers," said the coach. "For me, it's a happy problem to have.
"We can count on them, and you can even count on our third and fourth goalkeepers, Zaiful Nizam and Syazwan Buhari, to always work hard and push them in training."
Added Hassan: "The competition we have is healthy... We push each other on the field, but have no issues off it. It's the same with Zaiful and Safuwan.
"Izwan has his days, as he showed against Japan, and I did not have a good tournament in 2014.
"But everyone seems to forget football is a team sport. One good player won't guarantee you a win and one bad player won't guarantee you a loss.
"If called upon, I will do my best, as always."