Baihakki to the Lions: Have belief and stand together
Baihakki calls on young and old players to pull their weight
SINGAPORE v CAMBODIA
(8pm, Tuesday, National Stadium)
He turned in a Man-of-the-Match performance at the heart of the Singapore defence as others floundered in the face of a slick Afghanistan onslaught.
But even then, Baihakki Khaizan helped the Lions limp across the line with only a 1-0 victory in Group E of the World Cup/Asian Cup qualifiers at the National Stadium on Thursday.
As Bernd Stange's Singapore side plot a first-ever qualification for the 2019 Asian Cup, the 31-year-old central defender called for the Lions to close ranks - for seniors to do more to stay at the top of their game, and for young guns to man up and be counted.
"The younger players can't rely on the older ones all the time, like we do with (goal-scorer) Khairul Amri," Baihakki told The New Paper.
"They must start to believe in themselves, that their spot in the national team is not transitional - if they can't change that thinking, it's really just a waste of time."
"And the older players are not just here to make up numbers, we must compete - healthily - with the younger ones, they're not kids anymore, and we're not passengers."
The Singapore midfield appeared to be sorely missing the suspended Hariss Harun and Safuwan Baharudin, with 24-year-old Zulfahmi Arifin looking out of his depth alongside Hafiz Sujad, also 24.
Skipper Shahril Ishak, 31, was withdrawn at half-time, with Stange calling it a tactical change, but Johor Darul Ta'zim defender Baihakki, insisted that every single player - young and old - was absolutely vital in the Lions' campaign.
To qualify for the Asian Cup, the Lions must either win the group, finish as one of four best runners-up from eight groups, or go through another round of qualifiers.
Baihakki said: "If I'm honest, we weren't even close to matching Afghanistan, and we really got lucky. And we can't blame any individual for that - I was at fault too.
"It will be three times worse when we play them away (on March 29).
"But I really feel that we can do something special here, especially after the 0-0 draw with Japan."
Singapore pulled off a sensational draw with Japan in Saitama on June 16, and Baihakki insisted that belief has sunk into the squad that are now a good blend of youth and experience.
"The squad now have a balance, of experience, and of giving chances to young players - and we must all work in that system," he said.
"We need the young players to be hungrier and to take any chance that they get to play," said Baihakki.
"They're getting paid a lot more now too, compared to the $700 that I got when I signed my first professional contract with Geylang International all those years ago - I think we are right to demand more."
On average, national players get paid upwards of $4,000.
Singapore next face Cambodia on Tuesday at the National Stadium, where victory would put them on 10 points, and in good stead in the group.
And Baihakki believes that a return-leg win over Afghanistan next year is not beyond reach, despite the shoddy showing on Thursday night.
"We've conceded only one goal in four qualifying games, and that's really quite an achievement," he said.
"We can be proud, but our job's not yet done. I believe that if we believe, stay together like we did against Japan, we can do something special - but only if we all work together."
Faris vows a better showing against Cambodia
He was introduced as a substitute at half-time, thrown into action by national coach Bernd Stange, who was desperate to inject some pace which his side sorely missed during a turgid opening 45 minutes.
And Faris Ramli delivered by making an impact, earning - and delivering - the 72nd-minute corner kick from which teammate Khairul Amri scored to give Singapore a 1-0 win over Afghanistan in their World Cup/Asian Cup Group E qualifier at the National Stadium on Thursday night.
Nippy winger Faris, who replaced skipper Shahril Ishak at the break, also gave the Lions an attacking outlet on the left wing and put his speed to good use, helping to relieve some pressure by stretching the game with his forward runs.
However, it was by no means a rip-roaring performance by the 23-year-old winger, who is keen to make up for lost time by putting in another good shift against Cambodia in Singapore's next qualifier, on Tuesday.
"I gave my all against Afghanistan, but I know I am capable of doing more," said Faris, who earned his 15th cap on Thursday.
"Of course, like every player, I want to improve myself with every passing game.
"Because of the SEA Games (in June) I missed the first Cambodia game where the team did very well and won 4-0.
"I also missed the chance to play on a world-class pitch in a world-class stadium during the team's 0-0 draw with Japan in Saitama.
"So, I've been hoping to make up for all those lost opportunities, and I hope I get the chance to contribute in the upcoming three qualifiers at home."
Facing Cambodia carries added significance for Faris. After all, he scored his first international goal against the Angkor Warriors, as the Cambodians are called, in a 4-2 win just before last December's AFF Suzuki Cup.
Faris also hopes a lively performance against Cambodia could spark a return to his best form.
He admits he has been far from his best at club level for the LionsXII, who are eyeing a place in the quarter-finals of the Malaysia Cup.
"My form has dropped a bit recently, and since the Malaysia Cup began (on Sept 12), I haven't exactly had a wonderful performance in any of the games," he said frankly.
"Coach Fandi (Ahmad, LionsXII coach and one of Stange's assistants in the national set-up) has also spoken to me personally about this, so I want to show him I can rebound.
"I hope this international break can help me kickstart my season and help me get back to my best."
Free: A scarf for a copy of TNP
The national football team need the fans to back them in their World Cup/Asian Cup Group E qualifier against Cambodia at the National Stadium on Tuesday.
And what better way to show your support than to wave the Singapore scarf at the stadium? In partnership with the Football Association of Singapore, fans who show up for the match with a copy of Tuesday's The New Paper will get a Singapore scarf, while stocks last. Scarves can be redeemed at the FAS booth in front of Gate 10 from 6pm to 8.30pm.
Win tickets to back the Lions
Calling all fans of the Singapore national team. In partnership with the Football Association of Singapore, The New Paper will be giving away 30 pairs of Category 1 tickets for the Lions' World Cup/Asian Cup Group E qualifier against Cambodia at the National Stadium on Tuesday.
Simply answer this question:
- Khairul Amri scored Singapore's goal in the 1-0 win over Afghanistan on Thursday. True or False?
E-mail the answer with your full name and contact details to firstname.lastname@example.org by 6pm tomorrow to stand a chance to win a pair of tickets. The winners will be picked at random and will be notified by the FAS to collect their tickets.