Football: Lion City Sailors coach confident team will hit the ground running in first SPL game

Lion City Sailors head coach Aurelio Vidmar has no issue with his side being labelled favourites for the Singapore Premier League title. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - Lion City Sailors head coach Aurelio Vidmar has no issue with his side being labelled favourites for the Singapore Premier League (SPL) title. In fact, the 53-year-old Australian welcomes it.

The Sailors, who in February became Singapore's first privatised football club, will kick off their season against Tanjong Pagar United at the Jurong East Stadium on Friday (March 6).

Bankrolled by billionaire Forrest Li and his tech firm Sea, the hot favourites are expected to send a statement to the rest of the league against a side cobbled together at the 11th hour.

"There's always pressure... But we shouldn't shy away from that. We should try to embrace it," Vidmar told The Straits Times a day before the game.

"There's probably going to be a lot more scrutiny coming to us this season, but we just have to stay relaxed and concentrate on the process and what we've been doing in pre-season."

Tanjong Pagar coach Hairi Su'ap had only formed his squad after the club confirmed its participation in the SPL in late January, after a five-year long sit out due to financial woes. The 46-year-old knows many observers expect his charges to have a difficult re-introduction, saying: "If you talk about expectations, for Sailors they have to not just win, but also play well.

"On our side, people expect us to have a tough time, but I won't give up. It's a competitive game, there are points to collect, and I want my team to compete."

When asked if a scrappy narrow victory would do for him, Vidmar said: "I generally don't like ugly, but sometimes you have to accept it.

"The most important thing is we go try play the football we want to. We'll have 11 players on the opposite side of the pitch trying to stop us, and sometimes it can turn ugly. That's just the way it is.

"We just have to continue to try apply pressure and play the best possible football we can, whether it's a 1-0 or whatever the score may be."

Sailors goalkeeper Hassan Sunny, one of the club's big-name signings in the off-season, said the team was comfortable with the attention.

Said the 35-year-old: "I can understand the hype surrounding us and when you have a team like ours, people will expect us to go for the title.

"We have been working very hard, everything is going positively, and the fact coach demands a lot of us in games, I think will be good for us. He's so passionate in wanting the players to win every duel and every game."

Said Vidmar: "I'm very confident that our team is ready... We played seven games through pre-season, which is more than enough, but the real stuff now starts tomorrow.

"The most important thing for me right now is that I know the players are in a really good, strong frame of mind. And now they just have to do their stuff."

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