Five to light up S.League's second half
The second-half of the S.League season gets underway on Friday, and SAZALI ABDUL AZIZ highlights a group of players who have a point to prove
1 NIKO TOKIC (Balestier Khalsa)
Balestier coach Marko Kraljevic unearthed one Croatian gem in Goran Ljubojevic two years ago.
He believes he has discovered another in mid-season signing Tokic.
Former Croatia Under-21 striker Ljubojevic scored 20 goals in 27 games for Balestier in 2014, but left after the S.League's marquee player scheme was canned, and the club could not afford to keep him on.
Miroslav Kristic took over scoring duties last season, bagging 16 goals in 24 matches playing off main targetman Robert Pericic (nine goals).
But a knee injury kept Pericic out of action this term, and, as a result, Kristic and Balestier have suffered.
They are the lowest-scoring team in the S.League, with a pitiful seven goals from 12 matches.
Kraljevic is certain he has found the solution to their scoring problems, in 27-year-old Tokic.
"He's like Goran, strong and fast," the coach told TNP proudly.
"He's a top striker, he'll be in the box, looking for goals.
"Kristic is a good player but he's not an out-and-out striker... Niko is exactly what we need."
2 SAHIL SUHAIMI (Geylang International)
It wasn't long ago that Sahil was touted as the next big thing in Singapore football.
He burst on the scene in December 2013, after scoring three goals to help the national Under-23 team reach the semi-finals of the SEA Games.
He followed that up with 10 goals in his first full S.League season with the Young Lions in 2014, a tally that made him the joint-highest local scorer in that campaign.
A mixed 2015 with the LionsXII followed. He mostly made cameos off the bench, with coach Fandi Ahmad criticising his individualistic style of play, but he did help the team to the Malaysian FA Cup with two goals in the final.
Following the disbandment of the team at the end of last year, he joined Geylang International and looked primed to pick up where he left off in the S.League.
But he has scored just once in 10 games, starting six times.
Critics say he hogs the ball, preferring to try and beat opponents by dribbling instead of passing to his teammates.
Eagles general manager Aizat Ramli has no doubt the striker can overcome his "rough patch".
"We know what Sahil is capable of," he said. "He is a quality player who can perform at the highest level for the country.
"This is just a rough patch for him where he is struggling with his scoring form.
"The club are confident that he will perform and contribute significantly to the team."
3 JERMAINE PENNANT (Tampines Rovers)
A peek at Pennant's S.League report card after six months will read: Good, but can do much better.
The former Arsenal and Liverpool man's quality is plain for all to see.
His set-piece deliveries are top-notch, and, even at 33, still has enough pace to trouble defences.
But have his performances been Player of the Year material? In a word, no.
One reason for this is former Tampines coach V Sundramoorthy's rotation policy, as he tried to juggle the Stags' commitments in the continental AFC Cup competition.
As a result, Pennant started only seven of 12 S.League matches, completing the 90 minutes only four times.
The former England Under-21 star has also been subjected to some rough treatment by opposing players in the first half of the season, and one can only hope referees put an end to such short-handed tactics when the S.League resumes.
Akbar Nawas, Sundram's former assistant who will now take the reins of the Tampines first team, intends to use Pennant more regularly.
"There's definitely more to come from him," said Akbar.
"We only have 12 more games in the S.League, so we will start him whenever we can.
"Over the past few days, in training, he's looked sharp. I'm confident you'll see more from Pennant."
4 ABDIL QAIYYIM (Home United)
We know Home are great going forward.
The Protectors' turnaround over the past two months has been nothing short of spectacular.
Considered also-rans for the title in March, after starting the season without a win in six games, they are now third on the table.
The team's scintillating attack, led by Danish dynamite forward Ken Ilso (nine goals), is supported by newly-minted national player Azhar Sairudin, who pulls the strings in midfield.
With national players Khairul Nizam, Faris Ramli and Zulfahmi Arifin also in the mix, and the two striker sons of local legend Fandi Ahmad, Irfan and Ikhsan, set to be available in September after completing basic training in National Service, Home have enough firepower to end the season with a bang.
But, as the saying goes, a great attack win you games, but a great defence win you titles.
Coach Philippe Aw knows this, and acknowledged how key 26-year-old Abdil is to his team's chances.
"Abdil is the senior defender in the team and the whole season, he's put in good performances," said the 39-year-old.
"He's got young Shahrin (Saberin, 21-year-old defender) beside him and he's had to play the big brother role, and he's done that."
Abdil is seen by some as erratic, but he's gone some way to dispelling the notion this season with commanding performances at the heart of Home's backline.
If he keeps up his form, he could find himself in contention for a place in V Sundramoorthy's Lions' squad for November's Suzuki Cup.
TNP PHOTO: PHYLLICIA WANG, TNP FILE PHOTOS
5 ZHARFAN ROHAIZAD (Garena Young Lions)
It has been a topsy turvy year for the teenage goalkeeper.
He kept a clean sheet on his S.League debut, but was dropped to the bench two games later.
He was called up to the national Under-21 team for the Nations Cup quadrangular in Malacca earlier this month.
But he suffered in the 3-0 defeat by arch rivals Malaysia, which saw him axed for the second game.
Zharfan, still only 19, is likely to have plenty of chances to redeem himself in the second half of the S.League season.
After all, the Young Lions' French shot-stopper Benjamin Bertrand is set to leave at the end of what was a strange six-month contract with the team next month.
The 23-year-old former Ligue 2 goalkeeper has played in nine S.League games, limiting Zharfan to just four appearances in the first half of the season.
Long-time Football Association of Singapore goalkeeper coach Lee Bee Seng backed Zharfan to come good in the second half of the season.
The 63-year-old, who has developed the likes of Lionel Lewis, Hassan Sunny and Izwan Mahbud since joining the FAS in 1999, said it is normal for young goalkeepers to require time to adapt to the rough and tumble of professional football.
"At this age, all Zharfan needs is game time," said Lee.
"Then he needs someone to analyse his matches, give him feedback and guide him to improve. Don't criticise him.
"Even the likes of Izwan, Syazwan (Buhari, current Geylang No.1) and Hyrulnizam (Juma'at, current Home United No.1) made mistakes when they were at the same age at the Young Lions.
"Zharfan has the attributes needed to be a good goalkeeper in the future... He just needs to play more and gain more experience."