Football: Nine players to watch at the Singapore Premier League 2020

Hougang United forward Sahil Suhaimi in trainng. ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

SINGAPORE - The 25th season of the Singapore Premier League (SPL) kicks off on Saturday (Feb 29). The Straits Times picks nine footballers - three local senior, import players and under-23 each - who could be instrumental to their club's fortunes this year.


Hougang United

Forward, 27

After a three-year exile from the national team, and doubts over his fitness and form, the 27-year-old finished the season strongly with Warriors FC last season, scoring nine goals to earn a Lions recall.

Sahil was also one of the few bright sparks in the Cheetahs' 3-0 defeat by Tampines Rovers in the Community Shield, and if he can form a telepathic partnership with Stipe Plazibat up front, the goals will flow at Hougang.


Balestier Khalsa

Goalkeeper, 32

The experienced shot-stopper's 2019 was abruptly halted after just five games because of an ankle injury that sidelined him for almost five months.

The Tigers played three goalkeepers in his absence but the difference in quality was telling - they finished bottom of the league. Zaiful's return is a welcome boost for Marko Kraljevic as the Balestier coach plots a 2020 revival.


LionCity Sailors

Midfielder, 31

The industrious playmaker provided a steady presence in midfield for the Stags as they lifted the Singapore Cup, ending a six-year trophy drought.

One of the most talked about players pre-season as the Sailors coach Aurelio Vidmar pinched him from the Stags, Shahdan looks set to shine again in a Lion City Sailors side brimming with star quality. Look out for his set-pieces, as five of his six goals last season came from free-kicks.


Tanjong Pagar United

Striker, 29

Having represented Brazil at the Under-17 World Cup in 2007 alongside former Man United defenders Rafael and Fabio da Silva, and played with former Chelsea playmaker Oscar in the Brazil Under-20s, Junior comes with some pedigree.

He has experience scoring goals in the middle eastern, Indonesian and Malaysian leagues, and could well turn out to be a superb transfer coup for the Jaguars in their comeback season.


Tampines Rovers

Midfielder, 23

The former Albirex Niigata skipper has inherited not just Shahdan Sulaiman's jersey number at Tampines, but also the departed Stags talisman's role as chief playmaker.

With his individual skills, vision, and high technical ability, the left-footed Japanese has fitted seamlessly into his new team, and this should help Tampines cope with the loss of Shahdan to nouveau riche Lion City Sailors.


Brunei DPMM

Striker, 31

The former Belarus international was the league's top scorer last year with 21 goals, and a big factor in the Bruneian's second SPL title.

Varankou is not just great at finding the net, he also notched a joint league high 10 assists last year. His nose for goals and familiarity with local defenders will be key in DPMM's attempt at a title defence this year.


Young Lions

Striker, 15

The Woodlands Secondary School player made an impression with his smart finish in Singapore's 6-1 defeat by North Korea in the AFC Under-16 Championship qualifiers last year.

Rated highly by Young Lions coach Nazri Nasir, Khairin could well beat Zikos Chua (16 years and 84 days) to become the Singapore Premier League's youngest player and have his eyes on Hariss Harun's record of the league's youngest scorer at 16 years and 174 days.


Geylang International

Midfielder, 22

Possessing an excellent leap and timing in the header, young Pereira is also comfortable with the ball at his feet.

In pre-season, Pereira has looked handy in a deep-lying playmaker's role, a la Sergio Busquets, and could blossom under the nurturing hand of Eagles head coach Noor Ali.


Albirex Niigata

Winger, 20

Despite his slight build, is unafraid to take on defenders with his nifty footwork and pace, as Goh lit up the pitch with Balestier Khalsa last season with some impressive displays down the flank.

His performances earned him a call up to the national Under-22 side and if he can nail down a starting spot with the White Swans, he may be of interest to the Lions selectors.

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