Young Lions get long-awaited first S.League win of the season
HOME UNITED 0
COURTS YOUNG LIONS 1
(Shamil Sharif 88)
They were without four first-team players, including captain Al-Qaasimy Rahman and national striker Shahfiq Ghani.
Their head coach, Aide Iskandar, was struck down by dengue fever the day before and was lying on a hospital bed.
Without a win in six matches, the majority of the players of the Courts Young Lions seemed set to limp into the final phase of preparations for the 28th South-east Asia (SEA) Games with confidence shot, when the team lined up against S.League giants Home United at the Yishun Stadium last night.
But with backs to the wall, the side pulled off the upset of the season when they beat the Protectors 1-0.
The timing of the victory could not have been sweeter - last night's match was the Young Lions' last fixture before most of the team join up with the rest of the Singapore Under-23s in a 30-man squad that will begin centralised training on May 1, as they work towards the start of the SEA Games football tournament that kicks off here on May 29.
The Singapore U-23s have come under fire from all quarters after their dismal performances in international friendlies and with the Courts Young Lions struggling in the S.League, few gave the hosts any hope of achieving any sort of success at the SEA Games, let alone winning a first gold medal for the country in football.
But last night's hard-fought victory on a slippery, muddy pitch will come as a morale booster.
Midfielder M Anumanthan, who put in a superb shift in the heart of the defence, dedicated the win to Aide.
"Coach Aide and us have been under so much pressure and criticism the past few months, so this win is for him," he told The New Paper, after the game.
"The past few days, we've been telling ourselves to block everything out and not care what people are saying about us. We've kept our team spirit and that's what won us the game today."
Home United, without foreign midfielders Ken Ilso and Ambroise Begue, never came to terms with the sodden pitch, and created no clear chances for the first 70 minutes.
The Protectors, who also lost to Harimau Muda B two weeks ago, had more of the possession, but could not break down the solid central defensive partnership of Anu and Amirul Adli, who are both expected to be in the first team of the U-23s for their opening Group A match against the Philippines on June 1 at Jalan Besar Stadium.
With the clock winding down and Home committing players forward, midfielder Shamil Shariff latched on to a through-ball from the left flank and lashed home into the bottom corner past a helpless Hyrulnizam Juma'at.
Courts Young Lions assistant coach S Subramani and Kadir Yahaya took charge of the team in the absence of Aide and the duo would have been delighted at the way the side performed, especially with a number of regulars missing.
Former Singapore defender Mani declined to say if Anu and Amirul will form the first-choice centre back pairing at the SEA Games, but he was particular impressed with how the back four coped last night.
Defender Shakir Hamzah, midfielder Safirul Sulaiman, right back Al-Qaasimy and Shahfiq were all missing from the team after they signed for Malaysian Super League side the LionsXII yesterday.
A 30-man U-23 squad - including the LionsXII players - will leave for a week-long tour of Japan on May 10, when the final 20-strong team will be named for the SEA Games.
"We want every player hungry for a place in the first team, so the positions are open to all 30 players," Mani said.
"This was a real good start to our final preparation phase. If these boys keep up this level of performance, we'll be in good stead for the SEA Games."