Singapore vs Cambodia preview: Aide keeps faith with striker Sahil

Aide happy with his work rate despite misses; defence must keep it tight

FOR the past fortnight, one diminutive youngster is at the epicentre of the Singapore football scene.

Sahil Suhaimi has gone from the hero whose brace helped secure an unlikely Malaysian FA Cup title for the LionsXII, to a SEA Games striker terrorising ball boys with his wayward shots.

He may be lacking in confidence and sharpness - a fleeting trait for many strikers - but Singapore Under-23 coach Aide Iskandar refuses to give in to calls to drop his chief hit-man.

So tonight, in the Young Lions' must-win Group A clash against Cambodia, Sahil will be in the starting XI, with a third chance to get his first goal at this SEA Games.

"Sahil will stay in the team because he has been working really hard in training on his finishing," Aide told The Straits Times yesterday.

"He just needs one goal to build up his confidence. I can't fault him for trying."

Try he did - five attempts wide off the mark in the 1-0 win over the Philippines, and a whopping seven opportunities squandered as the hosts were shocked 1-2 by Myanmar.

At times, he seemed to try too hard, letting fly from outside the box instead of passing to an available team-mate.

There have been calls for 17-year-old Irfan Fandi to step in or, at the very least, partner Sahil up front. But the 1.87m hit-man, who has impressed with his aerial prowess and link-up play, is set to be used as an impact substitute once again.

As key forward Shahfiq Ghani remains sidelined with a knee injury, Aide's only change is expected to come on the right wing.

Stanely Ng, a peripheral figure in the first two matches, could make way for the incisive Amy Recha or the pacy Suria Prakash.

Speed down the flanks will come in handy against Cambodia, as proved in a 6-1 hiding by Indonesia on Saturday.

"I didn't expect that scoreline - Indonesia showed how to break them down with quick passing and movement on the wings," said Aide.

"But we must be careful. Cambodia are still in the running like us and will be determined to bounce back."

Singapore players still remember how they fell 1-3 at home to Cambodia's U-22s in a friendly in March. "We were too eager to go forward in that game and forgot our duties at the back," said captain Al-Qaasimy Rahman.

Centre-back Anumanthan Kumar added: "If we take them lightly again, we will be in trouble. The boys don't want to repeat that nightmare."

Games debutant Pravin Guanasagaran - the Young Lions' top performer against Myanmar with an aggressive all-action display - will lead the defensive rearguard against their opponents' swift counter-attacks.

Adopting an unconventional three-man backline, Cambodia rely heavily on their wing-backs to overlap and deliver crosses into the final third.

"We must dominate the midfield, but be patient too and wait to make the right pass to our attackers," said Pravin, 22.

"If we keep creating for Sahil, the team know he will get the goals for us."

Singapore, Cambodia and Indonesia are all on three points from two games, meaning goal difference will likely decide who progresses into the semi-finals.

The Young Lions faithful will hope Sahil is in the news tomorrow - for the right reasons this time.

nsanjay@sph.com.sg

Cambodia v Singapore

Singtel TV Ch134, 8pm

 Get more updates, photos and videos