Saint Koeman & his super hits

Our writer comes up with five reasons why Southampton are flying high in second place

THE UNLIKELY STARS: Southampton manager Ronald Koeman (above) has stunned the EPL by leading his team of relative unknowns into second place.
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Bony to stay at Swansea till 2018

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England to play Germany, France

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Martinez dismisses Keane's criticism

Everton boss rejects claims that his Irish players were told to 'protect themselves' on international duty

Everton manager Roberto Martinez.
Roy Keane (above, left) and Ireland boss Martin O’Neill (above, right).
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Giroud fit to face United

French striker returns ahead of schedule

SWIFT RETURN: Arsenal striker Olivier Giroud (above) is back one month ahead of schedule after breaking his leg 
in August.
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Alam Shah goes through pain barrier

2007 hero Noh Alam Shah tells 
Sazali Abdul Aziz how he battled an ankle injury to emerge top scorer with 10 goals

Noh Alam Shah.

Everyone talks about my seven goals against Laos when they remember the 2007 Suzuki Cup.

But, if you ask me, the most important contribution I made to our title-winning campaign then was in the second leg of our semi-final against Malaysia - and it wasn't even a goal.

The moment came in the 74th minute when my header was saved by the Malaysian goalkeeper, and Ridhuan Muhammad scored from the rebound.

At that point, I had tears in my eyes. We were 1-0 down and on the verge of going out, and everyone was clueless as to where we were going to get the goal from.

Luckily, Ridhuan scored and we went on to win on penalties to get to the final, and the rest is history.

I'm used to people talking about that Laos game by now.

When foreign imports join a club I'm at, my teammates will tell them I'm the guy who scored seven goals in that 11-0 win.

It's funny to think that, despite ending up as the tournament's top scorer with 10 goals, I might not have even played because of a bad ankle injury.

I remember, in one training session about two months before the Suzuki Cup, I suddenly collapsed on the field, screaming in pain.

As the tournament got closer, I would go to Tan Tock Seng Hospital for acupuncture treatment after training every morning. I'd have more than 50 needles stuck down my right leg.

A few days before our first game, I even went to (team captain) Aide Iskandar's room and told him I couldn't make it and that I would rather give up my place to someone fitter.

FAITH

But Aide and S Subramani convinced me the team needed me and, when I spoke to Raddy (Avramovic, former Singapore coach), he told me the same thing.

So I stayed in the team, because it's in my nature to try my best for people who put their faith in me.

And Raddy, brilliant a coach as he is, made changes to the team to accommodate me.

For the first time, he told me not to press from the front. All I had to do was to concentrate on getting into good positions in the box.

We started the tournament with a goalless draw with Vietnam, which wasn't a bad result as we avoided defeat by a tricky opponent.

Moreover, Raddy knew we could capitalise in our next game against Laos, who would have used up all their energy in their first game against Indonesia.

So he put some younger players in the starting 11, who were fresh and eager to prove their worth.

Even though I was carrying an injury, he probably put me in so I could build up my confidence by scoring a couple of goals. But I'm sure it wasn't on the script for me to get seven.

A lot of people remember how I asked to be substituted after scoring my fifth goal.

I tried to use my ankle as an excuse, because I really felt for the Laos players.

It was just one of those nights for me. Just look at the last goal. Even though I miskicked the ball, it bounced off the ground and went in off the post. Talk about luck.

When people say it's a magnificent feat, I always tell them they should watch the video again and look at all the magnificent assists.

Everyone made it so easy for me. I was playing with 10 other players whose desire and hunger were at a maximum.

And I hope the class of 2014 will have the same desire and hunger.

When people say it’s a magnificent feat, I always tell them they should watch the video again and look at all the magnificent assists. everyone made it so easy for me. I was playing with 10 other players whose desire and hunger were at a maximum.

— Noh Alam Shah, on his seven goals in Singapore’s 11-0 win over Laos in 2007

Shahril recalls the spirit that made the Lions 2012 champions

Shahril Ishak tells David Lee the Lions must have the never-say-die attitude of 2012 to successfully defend their title

FOR YOU, BOSS: Captain Shahril Ishak (above) and his team gave then-coach Raddy Avramovic the perfect send-off present by winning the 2012 Suzuki Cup.
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Faris looking for more goals

He was absolutely buzzing after the Lions' 4-2 victory over Cambodia on Monday, when he scored his first goal for Singapore.

During the two-day break that followed the match, wiry winger Faris Ramli (above) was inundated with congratulatory messages from family and friends.

He said: "It was really great, my friends - even those who are not really into football - know that I scored a goal for Singapore, which surprised me.

"My morale is boosted by the congratulatory messages that my friends and family have given me."

Happy as he is, the 22-year-old LionsXII wide man is not letting his first strike get to his head.

Faris said: "I am honoured and happy to score my first goal for Singapore, but it was just a friendly game in preparation for the Suzuki Cup.

"I will just try to put it at the back of my mind because the real one, the one that matters, begins on Sunday with Thailand.

"It's up to us to push ourselves and perform well for our country."

He seems set to add to his 10 international caps during the Lions' defence of their Suzuki Cup title on home ground, after impressing with his livewire performances on the flank for the national team.

But he remains grounded at the prospect of playing a major role for Bernd Stange's Lions.

Faris said: "It is up to the coach, whether he believes and trusts me.

"If I get the chance, I will do my best to prove him right, no matter the outcome of the match.

"I will just go out there and make my team and my country proud."

Baihakki and Safuwan aim to be the best pairing again

Baihakki and Safuwan out to prove they are still the best central defensive pairing in the region

Bernd Stange.
SOLID WALL: Safuwan Baharudin and Baihakki Khaizan (far right) are ready to strike up a strong partnership at the back for the Lions.

Two years ago, Singapore won their record fourth Asean Football Federation (AFF) championship title on the back of a strong defence, helmed by centre backs Baihakki Khaizan and Safuwan Baharudin who were touted as the best central defensive pairing in the region.

Two years on, the Lions' defence doesn't look as water-tight anymore - they conceded 15 goals in nine international 'A' friendlies this season, against opposition that ranges from Middle East giants to Asian minnows Macau and Cambodia.

While Baihakki and Safuwan do not care for labels, opposing strikers will do well not to underestimate Singapore's defence when Group B action of the AFF Suzuki Cup kicks off on Sunday.

"Let them think that Singapore's defence is not that strong anymore. It's okay, it's not a problem and I am not bothered about it," said Baihakki, 30, after the Lions' rain-interrupted training session at the Jalan Besar Stadium yesterday evening.

"There's always criticism... but we will only make it better."

Safuwan, 23, said: "We don't talk about individual's mistakes when we concede goals. We make mistakes as a team.

"We have been conceding goals against quality teams, and it's fair to say that we need to work on some things.

"We don't know how the tournament will turn out for Bai and myself but, at the end of the day, we have only one mission, which is to do well for Singapore in the Suzuki Cup."

CRUCIAL LINK

The duo's successful defensive partnership in the victorious 2012 campaign was perhaps a result of them playing together regularly for the LionsXII in the Malaysian Super League (MSL) that season.

They also flourished under former Lions trainer and now Myanmar coach Raddy Avramovic's penchant for an organised, disciplined brand of football.

Since then, many things have changed.

Baihakki joined MSL champions Johor Darul Ta'zim at the start of the season, but rejoined Fandi Ahmad's LionsXII in May.

Fandi has also given Safuwan the licence to go forward regularly, something that national coach Bernd Stange has also encouraged.

Stange's coaching philosophy is also starkly different from Avramovic's.

Baihakki said: "We are at a position, along with the goalkeeper, where we are always more likely to make mistakes. But, as a team, our defending is not as sound as we want it to be.

"Coach Bernd is concentrating on playing more attacking football, and with more flair.

"We will try to minimise the mistakes and, hopefully, when the Suzuki Cup starts, everything will come together and our defensive momentum will be back."

ABSENTEES

The Lions trained last evening after a two-day break, following their 4-2 friendly win over Cambodia on Monday.

The 22-strong squad - defenders Madhu Mohana and Faritz Hameed were conspicuously absent and are likely to be dropped from the final squad - seemed highly focused during training, even frequently lunging into tackles, with the likes of Faris Ramli and Khairul Amri taking tumbles at times.

Despite a less than succcesful season, Baihakki and Safuwan are fired up to start on a clean slate as they prepare to face Thailand in their opening match at the National Stadium on Sunday.

Safuwan said: "What has passed is history, it's about how Bai and I are going to build another defensive relationship.

"We still share that telepathic understanding... and it all boils down to believing in each other.

"Goals win you matches, but a good defence wins you championships. If we can do well in both, we can make a good team to win the Suzuki Cup."

Coach Bernd is concentrating on playing more attacking football, and with more flair. We will try to minimise the mistakes and, hopefully, when the Suzuki Cup starts, everything will come together and our defensive momentum will be back.

— Baihakki Khaizan on national coach Bernd Stange’s philosophy

Good hair days ahead

Famous stylist makes natural hair wigs for kids with cancer

CONFIDENT: Alexandra Munoz (above), who lost her hair due to chemotherapy for a brain tumour, wearing her new locks.
CONFIDENT: Alexandra Munoz, who lost her hair due to chemotherapy for a brain tumour, wearing her new locks.
PAINSTAKING: The wigs, handcrafted from natural hair, being created by Mr Marcelo Avatte and his team.
PAINSTAKING: The wigs, handcrafted from natural hair, being created by Mr Marcelo Avatte and his team.
PAINSTAKING: The wigs, handcrafted from natural hair, being created by Mr Marcelo Avatte and his team.
CONFIDENT: Alexandra Munoz, who lost her hair due to chemotherapy for a brain tumour, wearing her new locks (above).
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