Football: Lions have 'room to grow', says Nishigaya ahead of friendlies with Vietnam, India

Lions' head coach Takayuki Nishigaya said the upcoming games will be vital for his team's preparations for the Asean Football Federation Championship. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

SINGAPORE - Versatility and aggression are attributes national football team head coach Takayuki Nishigaya wants to see from his players as they head into two international friendlies in Vietnam.

The Lions will depart next Monday for Ho Chi Minh City where they will take on Vietnam on Sept 21 and India three days later at the Thong Nhat Stadium.

The 49-year-old Japanese announced his squad on Tuesday and said the upcoming games will be vital for his team's preparations for the Asean Football Federation (AFF) Championship from Dec 20 to Jan 16.

"I know how I want the team to play, which was seen in June during the Asian Cup qualifiers (in June) - high-pressing and aggressive - but we also have to learn how to control the game," he said.

"I know the Lions still have room to grow, the players need time to get used to what is required and this window is another chance for them to do so."

Among the new faces in the Lions squad are Hougang United goalkeeper Mukundan Maran and Geylang International defender Joshua Pereira, both 24.

Midfielders Hazzuwan Halim (Geylang) and Ho Wai Loon (Balestier Khalsa) meanwhile, return after last being called up in June 2021 and October 2018, respectively.

Notable omissions include Hougang United winger Shawal Anuar, whose wife is expecting their first child, and 108-cap Selangor FC defender Safuwan Baharudin, who is still not medically cleared after a concussion injury.

Nishigaya said: "I am looking out for players who can play in different positions.

"Because the AFF matches are played over a short period of time, four games in 11 days, I have to consider the impact of injuries, suspensions and other possible accidents.

"This means that players who can play different positions will be useful... and also give me tactical flexibility. It also increases the level of competition within the team."

Nishigaya has overseen four games since his appointment in April, with the Lions suffering a friendly defeat against Kuwait (2-0), before further losses in the Asian Cup qualifiers against Kyrgyzstan (2-1) and Tajikistan (1-0). They won their last qualifying match against Myanmar 6-2, but failed to progress to the finals in 2023.

Singapore are ranked 159th in the world and will have their work cut out trying to gain positive results over two-time AFF champions Vietnam (97th) and India (104th).

But Nishigaya stressed: "It does not matter the opponent... This September (international) window is a very good opportunity to know how much we can compete with such strong countries so we are able to know what we have to work on moving forward. The only way to improve is to play better teams, so these are meaningful games for us."

Singapore squad

Goalkeepers: Hassan Sunny (Lion City Sailors) Mukundan Maran (Hougang United) Zaiful Nizam (Geylang International)

Defenders: Amirul Adli, Hariss Harun (Sailors), Irfan Fandi (BG Pathum, Thailand), Joshua Pereira (Geylang), Nazrul Nazari (Hougang), Ryaan Sanizal (Tampines Rovers), Ryhan Stewart (Chiangmai FC, Thailand)

Midfielders: Adam Swandi, Hafiz Nor, M. Anumanthan, Shahdan Sulaiman (Sailors), Hazzuwan Halim (Geylang), Ho Wai Loon (Balestier Khalsa), Shah Shahiran (Young Lions)

Forwards: Faris Ramli, Song Ui-young (Sailors), Glenn Kweh (Young Lions), Ikhsan Fandi (BG Pathum), Ilhan Fandi (Albirex Niigata), Taufik Suparno (Tampines)

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