Wishing on a star in Sahil
SINGAPORE v HONG KONG
(Tonight, 7.30pm, Hougang Stadium)
Fandi Ahmad, V Sundramoorthy, Indra Sahdan Daud, Noh Alam Shah, Khairul Amri and Aleksandar Duric.
For years, Singapore football did not lack star strikers who could be counted on to bang in the goals, even when the pressure was on.
But the conveyor belt has spluttered in recent times, with no adequate replacement for the veteran warhorse Duric or the injury-prone Amri.
National captain Shahril Ishak remains more of a playmaker, even if he did notch up a hatful of strikes for the LionsXII in 2012 and 2013.
Singapore coach Bernd Stange has lamented the fact that almost all of the S.League clubs feature foreign signings as strikers, while current LionsXII coach Fandi has complained about the lack of firepower in his team.
Sahil Suhaimi could well be the one to blow away all the dark clouds.
A lovely solo goal for the Lions that saw him beat three defenders before firing in off the post in last Saturday's 2-1 win over Papua New Guinea (PNG) was Sahil's way of introducing himself to the world of international football with just his fourth cap.
He will be on show again tonight, when the Lions take on Hong Kong in a friendly at the Hougang Stadium, and assistant coach Aide Iskandar will be looking for the 22-year-old to continue his scoring streak and ensure back-to-back victories for the Asean champions, as they continue to build towards the defence of their title at home in November.
Fans are getting excited again, wondering if he could turn out to be the hotshot the Lions have been yearning for.
Kenneth Lim, a 28-year-old logistics officer who was at Hougang Stadium to watch the clash with PNG, is one of them.
Describing Sahil's strike to The New Paper, Lim said: "As he cut in from the left, beating a third defender, my friends and I thought he had overdone it as we all felt he had gone to far wide.
"Then he just smashed it in from a tight angle, and we were like, wow!
"This boy does look like he is a special player and I really hope that he is the striker the Lions need."
Sahil was going through his paces in training yesterday at Hougang when TNP caught up with him.
He enjoyed getting off the mark for his country, and added: "It's not like I set out to score only spectacular goals. Any goal that I can score is fine.
"In any case, it is all based on instincts, to look for an opening to get the ball on target. I was relieved to see the ball go in on Saturday."
Sahil is no flash in the pan.
The Courts Young Lions striker scored three times for the Singapore Under-23s at last year's South-east Asia (SEA) Games and nine goals, most of them stunning efforts, in this season's S.League.
Ahead of tonight's match, Aide is hopeful that Sahil will buckle down and realise his potential.
The 39-year-old, a former national defender who also coaches the Young Lions, said: "I've played with and against some of Singapore's best strikers such as Fandi, and Sahil has the potential to be up there.
"He's the kind of player who excites fans with his trickery and eye for goal, and that's a positive sign for Singapore football.
"Many opponents may not think much of him because of his lack of height (1.67m) but, as the game goes on, they will find out he's not easy to mark.
"He's still 22 and not the finished article yet. We want him to be more mobile and clinical, a one-shot-one-kill kind of striker, someone opponents and fans will be keen to keep an eye on."
It looks as if Sahil has the attitude that will give him the chance to become one of the country's most prolific forwards.
The striker, who will also play a key role for the U-23s who will depart for the Asian Games on Thursday, said: "I've always admired the way Shahril plays and I know I have to work hard to get to his level.
"After just one goal in the S.League last year, I worked extra hard for the SEA Games and put in extra hours to practise my finishing.
"Nowadays, it's easy for people to criticise when we don't play well, but I love the challenge of proving people wrong.
"It feels good to score my first goal at senior international level and I hope this is the start of many more."
- PROBABLE SINGAPORE LINE-UP: Hassan Sunny, Al-Qaasimy Rahman, Baihakki Khaizan, Safuwan Baharudin, Afiq Yunos, Faris Ramli, Hariss Harun, Shahdan Sulaiman, Fazrul Nawaz, Shahfiq Ghani, Sahil Suhaimi.
A win for confidence, please
“They (Hong Kong) are a dynamic side with good movement, so it would be a good challenge for us.” - Singapore captain Hassan Sunny (above)
They may be friendlies, but are anything but for Singapore.
Not when the Lions are ranked 152nd in the world, desperate for ranking points to climb up, and in need of momentum before most of the team leave for Incheon, South Korea, on Thursday for the Asian Games, with the football tournament kicking off on Sunday.
With star centre back Safuwan Baharudin and nippy winger Faris Ramli set to return from minor injuries, Singapore should be fielding their best 11 against Hong Kong tonight, with the exception of injured left back Shakir Hamzah, who will be replaced by Afiq Yunos.
While the Singapore squad are mostly made up of Under-23 players, world No. 161 Hong Kong have brought their senior side, including foreign talent like defenders Wisdom Fofo Agbo and Jack Sealy and striker Christian Annan.
Assistant national coach Aide Iskandar is mindful of the delicate balance required as he looks to give the youngsters exposure while going for a win.
Aide told The New Paper yesterday: "We would like to see a good performance and get a good result because that will boost our morale ahead of the Asian Games.
"I'm confident of the young players we have, such as defender Amirul Adli, who did well against Papua New Guinea, and I believe they can do a job against quality opponents like Hong Kong.
"We are going to the Asian Games to get more experience but, at the same time, we also want to bring back good results. I believe we can be competitive against our group opponents Tajikistan, Oman and Palestine.
"The Young Lions have done well to win their last two S.League games and it looks like we are peaking at the right time for the Asian Games."
Captain Hassan Sunny is also looking for a boost and victory before heading to Incheon.
The 30-year-old Warriors FC goalkeeper, one of three overaged players allowed in the Asian Games football tournament, said: "We didn't perform as well as we would have liked in the 2-1 win over Papua New Guinea, possibly because we didn't know what to expect from them.
"But we have played Hong Kong three times in the last two years and they have beaten us twice over there. They are a dynamic side with good movement so it would be a good challenge for us.
"We need to prepare for the Asian Games, but we also need to get more ranking points, so I hope the younger players can step up alongside the more senior ones to help us achieve both objectives."
Stange better but...
The good news is, Singapore football coach Bernd Stange is recovering from a viral fever and his temperature has gone down.
The bad news - the 66-year-old German may not recover in time to travel with the Singapore Under-23s to Incheon, South Korea, on Thursday for the Asian Games.
Depending on the doctor's advice, Stange could be back at work as soon as tonight to take charge of the Lions' friendly with Hong Kong, or miss out on the whole week, according to sources, including Singapore's first Asian Games match against Tajikistan on Sunday because he needs more rest.
National assistant coach Aide Iskandar said told TNP yesterday: "We'll have to see his condition day by day.
"His temperature has gone down but he is not fully fit, yet.
"We hope he will be available for our matches and we will heed the doctor's advice."