New trio in Lions' den
Defensive trio Stephen, Aplin and Rusyaidi hope to impress Sundram for Turkmenistan mission
Stuck at the bottom of the Asian Cup Group E qualifying campaign, Singapore will need a win over second-placed Turkmenistan on Oct 10 to keep alive their hopes of making the 2019 Finals in the United Arab Emirates.
V Sundramoorthy has yet to name the Lions squad for that clash but, at a training session at the Jalan Besar Stadium yesterday, there were three new faces who hope to impress the national coach for the important mission in Ashgabat.
The defensive trio of Anders Aplin (Geylang International), Shannon Stephen (Tampines Rovers) and Rusyaidi Salime (Garena Young Lions), fresh off the Republic's SEA Games campaign in Kuala Lumpur, have been training with Sundram's squad since Saturday.
While they are not assured of a spot in the final squad, Sundram believes an injection of fresh blood is important for the Lions.
Players from Home United and Hougang United have yet to join up with the squad due to their RHB Singapore Cup commitments.
"We have a few players who we're looking at for the future. We don't want to have to start looking for players if we suddenly need them if injuries or suspensions happen," Sundram told The New Paper.
"What we want is to have them already in training with the team, so we can have a look at how they fit in, and if they're ready.
"We have ageing players in the team and it's important that we start blooding more younger boys."
The trio were a bit shell-shocked when they were invited to join the training sessions.
"I wanted to show what I could do at the SEA Games, and I just hoped that Sundram will pick me one day," said 19-year-old right back Rusyaidi, one of the bright sparks for the Under-22 team in a disappointing SEA Games campaign that ended at the group stages.
"But the call-up is just the first thing, I know it's hard to get that right back spot, and I just have to keep working hard."
It is a similar attitude adopted by 26-year-old Aplin, who was so stunned by the call-up that he has not even informed his parents.
"I was half in disbelief when I got the call, but I'd like to stay grounded," said central defender Aplin, who was playing in the amateur National Football League before he made his professional debut for Geylang last year.
"This just goes to show that there are opportunities for players in the S.League, and also that I've just got to keep working harder," added the Nanyang Technological University graduate.
Stephen experienced a similar tough road into professional football with two anterior cruciate ligament injuries as well as National Service (NS) standing between him and his football dreams.
The 23-year-old is glad to get positive feedback for the work he has already put in.
"I've been in training for only two months (after fulfilling NS obligations) and it was a very mentally tiring effort to get back," said Stephen, who can play as a centre back but has been deployed in the right wingback role for Tampines this season.
"Sundram has told me not to give up before, and I'm quite happy about this," he added, paying tribute to his seniors at Tampines who have helped him on his journey back to the sport.
Sundram is pleased with the trio's commitment and performances in training sessions.
"Rusyaidi is only 19, but I'm quite happy with what I've seen of him in training. He needs to train more with the team, and get more game time at the international standard to improve," said the former SIngapore international.
"I've seen Shannon in some games for Tampines and he's got potential. He's got good physique for the international game and he's willing to learn.
"I've been watching Ander in the S.League for a while. He's strong, and now it's just about seeing how he handles this level of intensity on a daily basis.
"The door is always open, it's about players working hard and making use of opportunities when they get it.
"Realistically, these players will be around for more years to come, and I'd like to have them with the team more often, to have a good look at them and see if they're ready."