Football: Younger Lions hungry for success

(From left) Faris Ramli, Hafiz Sujad and Anumanthan Kumar looking spiffy in their suits at Changi Airport while waiting for their flight to Manila on Tuesday. Each has his own reason for wanting to do well in this tournament and ensure the Lions meet
(From left) Faris Ramli, Hafiz Sujad and Anumanthan Kumar looking spiffy in their suits at Changi Airport while waiting for their flight to Manila on Tuesday. Each has his own reason for wanting to do well in this tournament and ensure the Lions meet their target of reaching the Suzuki Cup semi-finals.ST PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI

After stellar domestic seasons, Singapore trio hope to shine for Sundram at AFF Cup

Senior players with big-game experience have been a key ingredient in national caretaker coach V. Sundramoorthy's search for a winning formula at the Asean Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup, but he knows that contributions from young and hungry Lions will be just as crucial .

The trio of Hafiz Sujad, Faris Ramli and M. Anumanthan have all shone with their respective clubs in this year's S-League and he will be hoping that they can carry their purple patches deep into the month-long competition, as the Lions seek a record fifth regional championship.

For Hafiz, this tournament is also one of redemption, after the nightmare he endured two years ago, when he conceded a late penalty against Malaysia which eventually led to the Lions' ignominious exit in the group stages on home soil.

TIME TO PERFORM

I've been waiting for this chance to come again and this is the top platform for me to show everyone that we have improved since the disappointment the last time. I'm going in with no fear at all.

FARIS RAMLI, on making amends after failing to get on the scoresheet two years ago when the Lions crashed out in the group stage on home ground.

Since then, however, the left- winger/left-back has matured to be one of the mainstays in the Lions squad - he played in all 10 international matches this year - and was the only Singaporean nominated for the Player of the Year award at the recent S-League awards night.

Hafiz, who has 33 caps, said: "I had a good season this year, but the main thing now is to be consistent.

"In the last edition, I wasn't in the first XI and played just one match. What happened in the last Suzuki Cup is something I'll not forget and I've learnt from it."

Major tournaments are no longer foreign to Hafiz, 26, who has played in last year's SEA Games and the Asian Football Confederation Cup with Tampines Rovers this year.

He said: "After playing in more big matches and tournaments, I have more experience now and I feel that I have confidence to perform well.

"While I don't like to put any pressure on myself to perform, I'm motivated to give that something extra because, after all, I'm playing for my future and perhaps I could play for an overseas club next year."

Hafiz's team-mate and fellow winger Faris is also eager to showcase his talent after drawing a blank in his first AFF Cup outing in 2014, failing to score despite playing in all three group matches.

Since making his international debut in 2013, much has been expected of the fleet-footed forward, and he has delivered on other smaller competitions.

He was the LionsXII's top scorer in the Malaysia Super League last year with eight goals, and scored five goals for Home United this year despite having an injury-hit season.

His return of four in 26 appearances for Singapore includes scoring the winner against Myanmar in Sundram's first game in charge of the Lions in June.

Now with all that experience under his belt, he is confident that there will not be a repeat of stage fright when Singapore kick off against co-hosts the Philippines in their opener in Bocaue on Saturday.

Faris said: "In everyone's first time, it's normal to feel nervous. I've been waiting for this chance to come again and this is the top platform for me to show everyone that we have improved since the disappointment the last time. I'm going in with no fear at all."

While Faris and Hafiz are regular players in the team, M. Anumanthan is the least experienced member in the squad with nine caps.

Yet he was one of the outstanding players at Hougang United this year, and became the first Singaporean to win the S-League Young Player of the Year award since Hariss Harun in 2010.

The hard-working 22-year-old midfielder knows that his chances of playing are slim, but should he get onto the pitch, he will "fight and die for the team".

Anu, who recently graduated from Republic Polytechnic and is enlisting for national service next January, said: "I've been playing well in the league this year, and I always knew that I had that in me.

"Realistically, I know that it's hard for young players to break through into the team because there're so many senior players. But I'm ready to show what I'm capable of doing once I get an opportunity to play."

Singapore play Thailand in their second Group A game next Tuesday and Indonesia on Friday week, with the top two making the semi-finals.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 17, 2016, with the headline 'Young Lions growing up'. Print Edition | Subscribe