Hougang hoping to regain early-season form

Cheetahs looking to recapture early-season form which saw them top the S.League

"Nobody is weak in this league. Look at Home, they were not doing so well at the beginning but now they are in third place after winning several games in a row. So, anything can happen this season and all we need are a few good results in a row to get back on track." - Hougang United coach K. Balagumaran

GEYLANG INTERNATIONAL v HOUGANG UNITED

(Saturday, 8pm, Bedok Stadium)

They drew comparisons with surprise English champions Leicester City after upsetting Home United 1-0 on the opening day of the season, followed by a subsequent run that saw them top the Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League.

But Hougang United have since been brought back down to earth.

The Cheetahs have not won in seven matches in all competitions and are in fourth place on 19 points, a staggering 16 points behind pace-setters Albirex Niigata.

Their formidable home record - undefeated in six matches at the Hougang Stadium - was also brought to a halt by Albirex in a 2-1 defeat on Wednesday.

But Hougang head coach K. Balagumaran believes the Cheetahs can bounce back.

"I believe in this group of players. I always tell them that we have a chance in every match," he told The New Paper.

"We have a young team and I have to keep them motivated.

"There is a lot of work to do for sure. We are different from teams like Tampines (Rovers) and Home (United), who have many experienced players.

"Nobody is weak in this league. Look at Home, they were not doing so well at the beginning but now they are in third place after winning several games in a row.

"So, anything can happen this season and all we need are a few good results in a row to get back on track."

The Cheetahs will be hoping to reverse their fortunes tonight, when they take on Geylang International at the Bedok Stadium.

The Eagles lost 2-0 to Warriors FC on Wednesday - their second defeat on the trot - but will not be easy opponents.

After a poor start to the season, Geylang found form before the international break, winning four of their last five matches in all competitions, including three in the league.

Even though his team beat Geylang 3-1 in their last encounter in April, Bala is anticipating a stern test for his charges.

"Geylang are a good team. I saw their match against Warriors in the RHB Singapore Cup and I was impressed," said the 51-year-old.

"They have some talented players and, on their day, they can beat anyone. Just because we defeated them before does not mean the same thing will happen.

"So, I think the key for this game is to remain focused and maintain concentration for the full 90 minutes.

"Hopefully, we can learn from all our past matches and use that to improve and get our season back on track."

Geylang general manager Aizat Ramli said his players are also determined to put a halt to their own mini-slump.

"We lost our last game, and we just have to look forward... That game is done and dusted," he said.

"We know that Hougang are a very tough team to beat.

"They are tactically disciplined, and a very hard and robust team.
"Having said that, this is our second encounter with them and, coming on the back of a loss, our players are eager to get back to winning ways.

"I shall leave it to the players to show how hungry they are to redeem themselves, against Hougang."

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Nothing polished about France, says Gary Lim

After two late escapes, Deschamps needs to find winning formula fast

Pogba was more of a tactical decision. With that system, I thought we needed two scrappers in the middle of the park. As for Griezmann, I’m managing him. Neither he nor Pogba is happy. Often players who come off the bench can make the difference. That was the case in the opening match and again here. — Didier Deschamps hails the impact of substitutes Paul Pogba and Antoine Griezmann (above)

GROUP A

FRANCE 2
(Antoine Griezmann 90, 
Dimitri Payet 90+6)

ALBANIA 0

Once more, France snatched victory at the death.

At the Stade Velodrome yesterday morning (Singapore time), the bulk of the 63,670 spectators rejoiced at the final whistle, after their side clinched a last-gasp 2-0 victory over Albania to continue their charge towards the gleaming Henri Delaunay Trophy.

Yet, there was nothing polished about the French display.

Not yesterday morning, not in their opening 2-1 over Romania last Friday either.

The late drama might have made for excellent entertainment, but did little to support their reputation as pre-tournament favourites.

The hosts have stumbled onto a winning path without discovering the winning formula.

Coach Didier Deschamps has guided his team to back-to-back victories without knowing his winning team.

Two matches into Euro 2016, their passage to the Round of 16 has been secured, but their destiny with European triumph looks precarious.

Twice in a row, they had to slog for the three points.

The laboured win over Romania in the opening game, courtesy of a Dimitri Payet 89th-minute winner, cannot be put down to a bad day in the office now.

Yesterday morning, it took an Antoine Griezmann goal on the stroke of full-time and another by Payet in the 96th minute to wrap up a game in which minnows Albania look decidedly the better team in the first half.

Deschamps' team selections betrayed an uncertainty to the gameplan.

His decision to drop Griezmann and Paul Pogba for the Albania clash required courage - both are star names who were ineffective against Romania.

The coach insisted that his decision was purely for tactical reasons.

Instead, Kingsley Coman and Anthony Martial were handed their first Euro 2016 starts.

But, to see the marked improvement in the team's play after Pogba (46th minute) and Griezmann (68th minute) came on as substitutes yesterday morning injected into the atmosphere a sense of confusion that genuine title contenders should always do without.

Until the introduction of the duo, France were devoid of flair and invention, easily thwarted by Albania's superbly organised defence and also frequently troubled by their speedy and purposeful counter-attacks.

For the majority of the match, the home crowd had to put up with a side brittle at the back and blunt at the top.

MANY CHANCES

Olivier Giroud's inability to convert the many chances that came his way must be worrying.

So was the central defence partnership of Adil Rami and Laurent Koscielny, which looked susceptible to mistakes when under pressure.

One of the few positives Deschamps can draw from their campaign so far is the team's determination to fight till the bitter end.

Speaking after yesterday morning's win, captain Hugo Lloris said: "This demonstrates once again that the game is played in the head.

"We have to believe until the end..."

But, one day, when their luck runs out, France will be found out.

Bigger teams await in the knock-out stages.

The need for improvement is urgent.

Unless Deschamps finds his winning team and a winning formula fast, they won't stand a chance.


NEXT FIXTURES

Monday (20/6):

  • Switzerland v France
  • Romania v Albania

Italy ready for Ibrahimovic

Azzurri ready to neutralise threat of Swedish superstar

GROUP E

ITALY v SWEDEN
(Tonight, 8.50pm, Singtel TV Ch 142 & 
StarHub TV Ch 220 - Eleven EURO)

He terrorised opposition defences in Serie A for seven seasons, but Zlatan Ibrahimovic will face stiff resistance to his efforts to rescue Sweden's Euro 2016 campaign against Italy tonight.

"Zlatan can put a whole team under pressure by himself, but we have to concentrate on our own game ... and try to limit their strengths," Lazio winger Antonio Candreva said.

After a frustrating 1-1 draw with Republic of Ireland in which Ibrahimovic failed to sparkle despite playing a decisive role in Ciaran Clark's late own-goal, the Swedes are under pressure ahead of the Group E clash in Toulouse.

A defeat would leave the Scandinavians needing to beat Belgium, ranked No. 2 in the world, in their last group game and hope they get among the four best third-placed group finishers to sneak into the last 16.

Sweden coach Erik Hamren is already dubious.

"Even though we managed to come back and equalise, I am disappointed. We will need to play at 300 per cent to get through," he said after their opening draw.

TALISMAN

Sweden will really need their talisman Ibrahimovic to show up against the Azzurri.

One of the most feared strikers in the world, Ibrahimovic's ability to produce moments of scoring magic has delighted fans for the past decade.

He hit 11 goals for Sweden in their qualifying campaign, only two shy of Poland's Robert Lewandowski and, with the pressure now on the towering striker, Italy coach Antonio Conte has sounded a warning.

"I like Ibra a lot, above all when he plays for the national team. He's got plenty of character, and he leads by example," said the Italy handler.

"He's become even stronger over the past few years, and he's still progressing. He's a very strong player who can destabilise a whole team."

Ibrahimovic's talents on the pitch are only exceeded by his penchant for self-promotion off it.

Although tonight's game would be the perfect occasion for Ibra to defy his detractors, Italy won't relinquish their new-found confidence easily.

Italy, who have suffered first-round exits from the past two editions of the World Cup, were written off before the competition.

But, after a deserved 2-0 win over Group E favourites Belgium, the Azzurri are brimming with belief.

"Before the Euro, all the newspapers said we wouldn't get past the first round, that we didn't have technically gifted players," said Roma's Alessandro Florenzi.

"A lot of unfounded claims were made. Now, after one game, people are starting to believe in us again." 
- AFP.

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