Stange raves about his potent strikeforce
SINGAPORE v LAOS
Defensive strength, instead of a potent strike force, has been the hallmark of Singapore's national teams in recent years.
With the likes of goalkeeper Hassan Sunny and central defenders Baihakki Khaizan and Safuwan Baharudin fit and eager to go, the backline of the Lions team for the 2014 Asean Football Federation Suzuki Cup is set to be a formidable unit, once again.
This time, though, they will be backed up by a group of attackers who will worry their opponents in this year's competition.
Singapore captain Shahril Ishak, Khairul Amri, Sahil Suhaimi, Shahfiq Ghani, Fazrul Nawaz and Khairul Nizam had national coach Bernd Stange purring yesterday, as they limbered up for tonight's friendly against Laos at Yishun Stadium.
After the team's training session at the Serangoon Stadium, the German said: "I think we have the best strikers... I have to be optimistic because we have a group of good young strikers, they all can score goals and they have delivered in the S.League and in the Malaysian leagues this season.
"Nizam has had not much match practice this season... but I believe in his abilities."
Home United's Fazrul, 29, and Sahil, 22, of the Courts Young Lions, were the joint local top scorers in the Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League this season with 10 goals each, while Amri, 29, was joint-top scorer for the LionsXII in the Malaysian Super League and cup competitions with speedy Faris Ramli, with seven apiece.
Wiry winger, Faris, 22, is also in the provisional 35-man squad for the Suzuki Cup.
Obviously, skipper Shahril is proven pedigree, claiming the Most Valuable Player award during the Republic's title-winning Asean campaign in 2012, and he is almost back to full fitness after tearing his right hamstring in August.
The 30-year-old came on as a second-half substitute in the Lions' last three friendlies against Hong Kong, Macau and Bahrain, and Stange hinted that the playmaker could be ready to start tonight.
"We will field a few players (who are coming back from injury) because they need games... and it is important to have the skipper on board to lead this team, even though there is a lot of experience coming from players such as Hassan, Baihakki, Ismadi Mukhtar, Hariss (Harun), Shahdan (Sulaiman) and Amri," said Stange.
"There is so much experience in the team, and we want to use it and see how it works tomorrow, and against Cambodia."
Singapore are joint-hosts of this year's Suzuki Cup with Vietnam and will hold Group B games here, while Hanoi will feature Group A matches.
The Lions will host Cambodia on Monday in their final friendly before they open their group campaign against tournament favourites Thailand on Nov 23 at the 55,000-capacity National Stadium at the new Singapore Sports Hub.
Speaking to The New Paper yesterday, Johor Darul Ta'zim II star Shahril declared himself "100 per cent fit".
"It's always good to have more attacking options, and we have experienced forwards like Amri and Fazrul, and younger ones like Sahil, Shahfiq and Faris.
"We need to be united and hungry for more success," he added.
Home striker Fazrul says the competition among forwards has been intense as they look to fill the void left by the likes of Indra Sahdan, Noh Alam Shah and, most recently, Aleksandar Duric.
Said the hardworking forward: "I am quite grateful to be back in the national team. I had quite a good season in the S.League. I will be working extra hard to be the best person for my position in the starting 11."
With the exception of fullback Shakir Hamzah, who did light training last evening, Stange declared his squad injury free.
After the two friendlies, the 66-year-old will trim his squad down to 22, and he will then work on the team's defensive shape before the blockbuster opener.
Said Stange: "We have a lot to work to do, especially in defence; we allowed too many easy goals (recently) and we have to improve on that, especially in home matches."
- Additional reporting by DAVID LEE
How to get your tickets
The Football Association of Singapore (FAS) on Tuesday released ticket details for the Lions' two friendly matches against Laos tonight and Cambodia on Monday.
Fans can buy a single ticket for $12, or tickets to both matches for $20. The concession rate, for students aged 16 years and below and senior citizens 60 years and above, is $3.
Those eligible for concession rates have to produce their concession passes upon entry into the stadium. Concession tickets are also applicable to children aged 7 and below without concession passes, who require a seat in the stadium.
Fans can buy the tickets from Ticketbooth's website www.ticketbooth.com.sg, the 12 Ticketbooth outlets, or AXS machines until 4pm on matchday.
Sales will resume on matchday from 4.30pm at Yishun Stadium, subject to availability.
Ticket redemptions for online and AXS purchases can be done at the Ticketbooth outlets during operating hours and at Yishun Stadium on matchdays using the sales receipt.
Fans of the visiting teams are advised to purchase their match tickets on matchdays at the stadium.
For enquiries, contact Ticketbooth at 6296-2929 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.