Football: Lion City Sailors’ Ernie, Izzati go the distance to win second women’s league title

Lion City Sailors' Nur Izzati Rosni (left) and Ernie Sulastri Sontaril joined Malaysian side FC Swat for a month. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

SINGAPORE – Juggling a day job with club and national team training is tough for any footballer, but Lion City Sailors’ Ernie Sulastri Sontaril and Nur Izzati Rosni decided they need to push themselves even harder.

In a bid to get themselves ready for the 2023 Deloitte Women’s Premier League (WPL) season, the duo signed on with Malaysian side FC Swat to play in the FA Selangor Women’s Super League (WSL) in February.

For a month, Ernie and Izzati – who work as coaches – travelled to Kuala Lumpur on match days, played the game and caught three to four hours of sleep before returning to Singapore.

Once, they arrived less than 30 minutes before kick-off because of a traffic jam en route from the airport to the stadium in Selangor.

While it was tiring, they soon got used to their hectic schedule. Ernie, who is also the national team captain, said: “We couldn’t use this to give an excuse to say that we are tired, we don’t want to train, we cannot give our 100 per cent during training.

“It’s good to also teach the younger players this. In sports, we need to have discipline. Then we can be better players. If you choose to play at a higher level, you have to learn to adapt and accept all this.”

As they were based here and could not train with the team, the pair kept up to date with what went on during training through Zoom calls with the coaches, who would also send them clips from the sessions.

After a nervy start, the pair felt that it was a fruitful experience as they helped FC Swat reach the quarter-finals of the competition, with forward Izzati bagging three goals and defender Ernie named in the Team of the Week once.

Learning to cope with a more aggressive style of play is something they believe will come in handy when they face tougher opponents.

Izzati, 23, was heartened by how the FC Swat players welcomed them and were open to exchanging feedback.

Last season’s WPL top scorer with 10 goals said: “When we came, there was no awkwardness, they didn’t treat us as foreign players. Physically, it was a good experience for me, you have to be smart. They will come on to you, so you have to be quick to pass.”

Ernie, 34, said: “They’re more aggressive and very fast in winning the ball back. If you’re holding the ball, two or three players will come toward you.

“It’s good for us because it’s good preparation for the Women’s Premier League. We’re trying to win the title again this year and of course our international matches.”

Nur Izzati Rosni (left) and Ernie Sulastri Sontaril are hoping to take the lessons learnt from their stint with Malaysian side FC SWAT into the new Women’s Premier League season. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Ernie and Izzati are confident the Sailors can challenge for the WPL title again, with the latter saying: “We want to continue to play beautiful football, especially now that we have younger players coming in to join us.

“So I hope with them on board, we’re still able to continue nicely building up from the back, high tempo, quick football.

“The same style or even better than the previous season, so you still want to maintain our philosophy.”

The 2023 season will feature three new teams and Sailors head coach Yeong Sheau Shyan said it is even more important for them to raise their standards.

The Sailors have retained most of their squad, though Yeong has been blooding younger players in anticipation of some exits in mid-season, with some graduating from school or heading overseas.

She said: “Retaining a title is way harder than getting a title, so this year the pressure is on us to try and do well.

“What we want is in the long term to build a team that can consistently perform. We’re looking at young players coming up, we’re looking at establishing a playing style that we can carry through.”

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