Lions ready to defend title after 4-2 win over Cambodia
(Khairul Amri 9, Faris Ramli 29, Shahril Ishak 33, Safuwan Baharudin 38)
(Khuon Laburavy 27, 30)
With an impressive first-half display of firepower in a 4-2 win over Cambodia in front of a boisterous 1,989-strong crowd at the Yishun Stadium last night, Singapore have a spring in their step.
"We are ready to go," declared national coach Bernd Stange about their opening Suzuki Cup Group B encounter against Thailand on Sunday.
While the opponents were lowly Cambodia, who achieved their only victory in 14 matches against Singapore in a 3-0 win 42 years ago, the reigning Suzuki Cup champions showed plenty of creativity in attack.
Watched by former Singapore coach Radojko Avramovic, now with Myanmar, the Lions showed plenty of purposeful wing play in the first two goals.
Skipper Shahril Ishak produced a peach of a cross from the right flank for Khairul Amri to volley home the opener in the ninth minute, before Amri turned provider from the opposite wing, cutting the ball back for Faris Ramli to slot in his first international goal 20 minutes later.
The Lions' ability from set-pieces then came to prominence when Shahril slotted home after Shaiful Esah's 33rd-minute free-kick cannoned back off the post.
Centre-back Safuwan Baharudin, given licence to roam upfield, then sealed victory in the 38th minute when he seized on Hariss Harun's shot to fire into the bottom corner.
Said Stange: "We tried our passing game, but we were limited by the muddy conditions.
"Two comfortable wins by two-goal margins give us confidence going into the Suzuki Cup.
"We have creative players like Faris and Sahil who can pull off surprises. They make football attractive and they are why the fans are here.
"They will score a lot more in the next 10 years."
The Lions had beaten Laos 2-0 last Friday and last night's game was their final tune-up ahead of their defence of their Asean crown.
Singapore, co-hosts of the biennial Suzuki Cup this year, will be hoping for a huge turnout at the new 55,000-capacity National Stadium when they play their first competitive match there against the Thais.
It was not all plain-sailing against Cambodia, though, after the Lions conceded two soft goals.
Two dangerous crosses by Prak Mony Udom in the 27th and 30th minute, respectively, were not dealt with by the Singapore defence and Khoun Laburavy pounced on both occasions.
Cambodia coach Lee Tae Hoon tipped the Lions to defend their title, but only if the normally reliable defensive unit tightened up.
"Singapore's defence showed some problems in the first half. After 30 minutes, I thought they were finished because the back four were static and it was easy to get past them. Singapore must fix this," he said.
Stange agreed, saying: "We gave them too many chances in the middle. It was a first half that was good only for the spectators but not for coaches.
"We allowed two goals and four clear chances and we had to correct it immediately, which we did because Cambodia had zero chances in the second half.
"This is what we have to do against Thailand - get our defence right first and then attack."
Singapore’s only defeat in 14 Fifa internationals against Cambodia was in June 1972 when they were beaten 3-0.
Madhu, Faritz set for the chop
With just days to go to the Suzuki Cup, teams like Malaysia and the Philippines have confirmed their 22-man squads.
Singapore football coach Bernd Stange told The New Paper last night he would prefer to do so only at the team managers' meeting a day before the Lions' opening Group B match against Thailand on Sunday, "just in case something happens to the players".
Sources say the two players who are most vulnerable in the current 24-man squad are right backs Faritz Abdul Hameed and Madhu Mohana, both of whom played a part in the Young Lions' bronze-medal outing at the SEA Games last year.
Both defenders were not called up for friendlies against Hong Kong and Macau after battling back from knee and hamstring injuries, respectively.
In the last three friendlies against Bahrain, Laos and Cambodia, only Faritz had a 17-minute cameo in the 2-0 defeat in Manama.
Citing the fact that both players last played a full competitive matches more than two months ago, Stange said: "Faritz is a player I like, overlapping on the wings but it's very risky to use players who are not match-fit."
But Stange maintained he would not name his final squad of 22, yet, and Madhu said: "I'll be very disappointed to miss out because I have worked very hard to get back to full fitness.
"But how can I get match fitness if I do not get the chance to play in the friendly matches and prove myself?"
PROBABLE SINGAPORE SUZUKI CUP SQUAD
- Goalkeepers: Hassan Sunny, Izwan Mahbud
- Defenders: Ismadi Mukhtar, Al-Qaasimy Abdul Rahman, Baihakki Khaizan, Safuwan Baharudin, Afiq Yunos, Amirul Adli, Shaiful Esah, Shakir Hamzah
- Midfielders: Faris Ramli, Gabriel Quak, Hariss Harun, Shahdan Sulaiman, Zulfahmi Arifin, Hafiz Abu Sujad
- Forwards: Shahril Ishak, Khairul Amri, Fazrul Nawaz, Sahil Suhaimi, Shahfiq Ghani, Khairul Nizam