SINGAPORE - The suspense over the identity of the new national football coach will linger for another three months after the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) said on Thursday (March 7) that the recruitment search will drag on until June.
FAS general secretary Yazeen Buhari said: "We are at the tail end of the process. And we should be appointing one (the new national coach) before the next competition window (official Fifa match dates) in June."
The Lions have been without a coach since exiting the Asean Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup in the group stage in December last year. Then, FAS' head of youth Fandi Ahmad led the team for six months.
Tatsuma Yoshida, a 44-year-old Japanese and former S-League player with Jurong FC and an ex-coach of Japanese J-League club Kashiwa Reysol and Albirex Niigata, has been mentioned as a possible front runner for the hot seat.
On Thursday, it was announced that Singapore will take part in the AirMarine Cup held in Kuala Lumpur's Bukit Jalil Stadium on March 20 and 23.
For this assignment, ex-Lions captain Nazri Nasir will lead the squad. The other teams involved in the quadrangular are hosts Malaysia, Afghanistan and Oman.
The Lions will meet the Tigers of Malaysia in a Causeway battle on March 20 while Oman play Afghanistan on the same day. The winners of the opening games will proceed to play in the final three days later while the losers will contest the third-placing match, also to be played on March 23.
FAS vice-president Teo Hock Seng, who will be the head of the delegation for the AirMarine Cup, added: "This is a great opportunity for Singapore football. Malaysia did pretty well in the recent Suzuki Cup (they lost 3-2 on aggregate to Vietnam in the two-legged fFinal), but I don't think we are too far away from them.
"I will be going up (as the head of delegation) to ensure that we will play to win."
Calling the appointment "a privilege and honour", Nazri, 48, said: "This (the game against Malaysia) needs no introduction.
"It will be do-or-die, there are no friendlies against Malaysia. I expect them (the Lions) to do their best. We are all ready to go."
Picking a squad of 22, Nazri decided to go for a youthful line-up and decided not to call up 35-year-old veterans Shahril Ishak (138 caps) and Baihakki Khaizan (134 caps) although he did not rule them out for future selection. Veteran goalkeeper Hassan Sunny, 34, is currently injured.
"Bai and Shahril had done a lot for the country over the years," Nazri explained.
"They had also done their part in the Suzuki Cup supporting and guiding the younger players. But now is the time to select more younger players."
Also missing is Home United forward Adam Swandi, the reigning Singapore Premier League Young Player of the Year. Although he was tearing defences apart with his trickery for former club Albirex Niigata last year, the 23-year-old has made a quiet start with the Protectors.
Nazri noted: "I look at players based on performance and current form and the style that we want to play, it is good for him (Adam) to take a break."
And the former midfield hard man has a clear vision of the football he wants the Lions to dish out.
"I am looking at a very attacking team," he added. "We want players who have pace, aggression and are explosive. I want to see midfielders coming into the box, taking on players and shooting from outside the box."
Goalkeepers: Izwan Mahbud (Nongbua Pitchaya, Thailand), Syazwan Buhari (Tampines Rovers), Zaiful Nizam (Balestier Khalsa)
Defenders: Amirul Adli, Irwan Shah (both Tampines), Emmeric Ong (Warriors FC), Faritz Hameed (Home United), Nazrul Nazari (Hougang United), Safuwan Baharudin (Pahang, Malaysia), Shakir Hamzah (Kedah, Malaysia)
Midfielders: Izzdin Shafiq (Home), M. Anumanthan, Zulfahmi Arifin (both Hougang), Hariss Harun (Johor Darul Takzim, Malaysia), Huzaifah Aziz (Balestier), Shahdan Sulaiman, Yasir Hanapi (both Tampines)
Forwards: Faris Ramli, Iqbal Hussain (both Hougang), Gabriel Quak (Warriors), Khairul Amri (Tampines), Khairul Nizam (Warriors)