Young Lions stun Balestier in season opener
National youth team coach Tardy wants Young Lions to stay grounded after shock win
GARENA YOUNG LIONS 1
(Fareez Farhan 23)
BALESTIER KHALSA 0
You have to go back to 2007, when they beat Liaoning Guangyuan 3-2, for the last time the Young Lions won their season opener.
Since then, the national developmental side have consistently struggled for victories and confidence, especially at the start of the season.
Before last night's kick-off at the Jalan Besar Stadium, few would have given the Garena Young Lions, whose starting 11's mean age is 20.9, a chance of beating a seasoned Balestier Khalsa side who are six years older on average.
The hosts were missing senior striker Khairul Amri due to a calf injury and playmaker Adam Swandi who had National Service commitment.
And their head coach Patrick Hesse will get his employment status confirmed in time only for next Saturday's match against Albirex Niigata.
But, in front of an encouraging 2,246-strong crowd, the Young Lions stepped up to pull off the first big upset of the new S.League season by beating Balestier 1-0, thanks to a lovely combination involving inspirational skipper Firdaus Kasman and right winger Muhaimin Suhaimi that was finished off by Fareez Farhan in the 23rd minute.
It may appear as a classic smash-and-grab, but the Young Lions also impressed at times by intelligently knocking the ball around on the ground in neat triangles, a stark contrast against the visitors' long-ball approach.
Ultimately, it was a true team effort as Zharfan Rohaizad, making his S.League debut, was commanding in goal with nine saves, centre back Ashrul Syafeeq composed in defence, 18-year-old central midfielder Hami Syahin confident in the engine room, Muhaimin creative on the wing and Fareez clinical with his only chance.
National youth teams coach Richard Tardy, standing in for Hesse, admitted that he was pleasantly surprised by the result, but urged the team not to be carried away even if they are guaranteed a place in the top three after Week One.
"We lost our three pre-season friendlies and we didn't know where we were going," said the 65-year-old Frenchman.
"I told the boys that this was like an FA Cup game between a fourth-division side and a first-division team and it is up to them to make a sensational result and they did what I wanted.
"The result and how we played today are still big surprises for me, but it shows that with a big heart and mental strength, you can achieve big things.
"We are not going to win the league. This is only the first game, just the first step of many on the way up. There are 23 more tough games to go and we target more exposure for the players as we push them towards the SEA (South-east Asia) Games and the national team.
"We need time and we must be careful how we handle them, but I want the players to be proud to show what they can do and not be happy just to be able to play."
Balestier coach Marko Kraljevic was left in no doubt his Tigers have to improve drastically in the final third if they are to finish in the top half again.
"When we lose, we can say 1,001 things. This was our worst game for a long time, but we still created enough chances to win," said the 50-year-old, whose side played just one friendly match during pre-season.
"I'm very disappointed with the result and not just the forwards. We were just not sharp enough. We were slow and made wrong choices in front of goal.
"I'm not surprised by the Young Lions. They always play like this - short passes with a lot of movement.
"We tried to make changes, but it was just not our day. We have to learn from this game and move on."
GARENA YOUNG LIONS:
Zharfan Rohaizad, Rusyaidi Salime, Ammirul Emmran Mazlan, Ashrul Syafeeq, Marcus Adi Wheeler (Muhelmy Suhaimi 61), Muhaimin Suhaimi, Firdaus Kasman, Gareth Low, Hami Syahin, Fareez Farhan (Jonathan Tan 73), Hazim Faiz (Shafeeq Faruk 56)
Zaiful Nizam, Fadli Kamis, Sheikh Abdul Hadi, Hanafi Salleh, Ahmad Syahir, Fazli Ayob (Syafiq Zainal 46), Emir Lotinac, Shah Hirul, Fadhil Noh (Zulkiffli Hassim 46), Jamil Ali (Hazzuwan Halim 71), Miroslav Kristic.
- TNP Man of the Match: Hami Syahin (Garena Young Lions)