Football: Goal-shy Lions vow to test leaders Bahrain

Forwards in different clubs, playing style, and injuries behind toothless showings

Faris Ramli (in yellow bib) enjoying national team training at the Geylang Field yesterday. The winger scored 11 goals for Home United in the S-League last season, but just once for the Lions this year.
Faris Ramli (in yellow bib) enjoying national team training at the Geylang Field yesterday. The winger scored 11 goals for Home United in the S-League last season, but just once for the Lions this year.ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

For Safuwan Baharudin, tomorrow's match against Group E leaders Bahrain at the National Stadium is crucial, not just because three points will keep Singapore's slim Asian Cup qualifying hopes alive.

A win would also help to lift the year-long malaise that has hung over the country's most popular sport and inject much-needed optimism.

"If you look at the whole list of matches this year, I don't remember seeing any games that we have won, even at the youth level," the 26-year-old told The Straits Times last night, after the Lions' training at the Geylang Field. "We also have to bring back the crowd. The fans are there for us but... it's frustrating that we haven't won a single game on home ground."

There have been plenty of grounds for dissatisfaction. In nine outings this year - friendlies and Asian Cup qualifiers - the Lions have scored just six times, drawing three and losing six games.

The lack of goals stretches back even further.

In 20 matches since V. Sundram Moorthy took charge in May 2016, the Republic have never scored more than one goal in a game.

A return of 0.55 goals per game under Sundram is in stark contrast to the average of 1.46 goals from 35 games that previous national coach Bernd Stange oversaw.

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Safuwan said the understanding among the forwards was better during the German's stint, because the majority of the team played together in the LionsXII, which competed in the Malaysian Super League from 2012 until 2015.

"With our clubs we are training every single day with our teammates and the momentum is there," said Safuwan, who scored nine goals for PDRM in the second-rung Malaysian Premier League last season and has been used by Sundram as the Lions' main striker this year.

"When it comes to the national team it takes time for us to gel together. In the two or three days before (international) matches we have to brush up on every single thing that has been taught."

Winger Faris Ramli, 25, has netted 11 times for Home United in the S-League last season but only once for the Republic this year.

While international football is of a higher standard, he said, the tactics of Protectors' coach Aidil Sharin, who favours a more attacking mindset, and Sundram's soak-and-counter approach also had to be considered.

Faris added: "For us to score goals, we must really concentrate on our positional play and also the forwards really need to be more decisive in the final third."

It does not help that Khairul Amri, who has 32 goals in 118 games for the Lions, has been restricted to a place on the bench because of his injury problems this year.

"It's best for him to help us in the later part of the game if needed," said Sundram, who noted that the development of Ikhsan Fandi, 18, was cause for optimism.

With his physique and speed, the striker is "definitely one for the future", said Sundram. "For him, it's just about finishing his National Service and working more on (polishing) his football skills."

Singapore are bottom of Group E, which features Turkmenistan (seven points) and Chinese Taipei (six points), with two points from four games.

Even two wins from their last two matches are unlikely to lead to qualification for the 2019 Asian Cup. But captain Hariss Harun refused to concede anything.

The 26-year-old said: "As long as we have a mathematical chance we will be there fighting, giving our best. Of course the results are not there, but we need the fans' support. It will do us a world of good.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 13, 2017, with the headline 'Goal-shy Lions vow to test leaders Bahrain'. Subscribe