Lions sure of better days

Sundram's men admit they must address scoring form but are confident of improving

Singapore midfielder Izzdin Shafiq reacting to a missed opportunity against Malaysia in the Causeway Challenge on Friday.
Singapore midfielder Izzdin Shafiq reacting to a missed opportunity against Malaysia in the Causeway Challenge on Friday.ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

Amid the anger and frustration in the Singapore dressing room following their goal-less draw against arch-rivals Malaysia in Friday's Causeway Challenge was also a bubbling sense of optimism about the road ahead.

Not only did the hosts dominate the match - albeit against a patched-up and inexperienced Malaysian side - with a vibrant brand of attacking football that surprised many, there was a clear sense of desire from every single man in red.

While some of that hunger can be attributed to the historical rivalry between both countries, veteran centre-back Baihakki Khaizan believed it was a sign that the Lions have turned the corner after the team suffered three losses in caretaker coach V. Sundramoorthy's first four games in charge.

The 32-year-old told The Sunday Times: "There were a lot of positives for us to take away. The result shouldn't overshadow the good performance. We played at a high level for most of the game and must use that as a platform to build from."

Indeed, had the crossbar not rescued the visitors on three occasions, a 3-0 scoreline would not have flattered Singapore, stressed Sundram, who added that it was the team's best performance since he took charge in May.

Few would disagree. The Lions were well-organised in defence and used the ball intelligently. There was genuine width and penetration offered by wide players Faris Ramli and Gabriel Quak, both ably supported by full-backs Juma'at Jantan and Faritz Hameed.

Hariss Harun, who captained the Lions on Friday, is used to success having won four straight Malaysia Super League titles. Though disappointed that victory eluded his team, he was encouraged by what he saw at the National Stadium.

The Republic had 60 per cent possession, took 12 shots at Malaysia's goal and looked dangerous during set-pieces.

The 25-year-old said: "The way we played tonight gave us confidence, even though they sat back and let us go at them. We did well to be patient and went forward at the right moments but there's still room for improvement.

"We'll get better as a team and that's what we have to look towards. We cannot be satisfied with this performance, especially with the Suzuki Cup coming up."

Hariss and his team-mates left for Hong Kong yesterday and will face the home team in a friendly on Tuesday. That will be followed by a 10-day training camp in Qatar where they will play two friendlies.

The Lions will also have a final warm-up match at home on Nov 12. The opponents for these three friendlies have yet to be finalised.

Singapore will start their Asean Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup campaign against the 125th-ranked Philippines on Nov 19. World No. 155 Singapore, will also face fellow four-time champions Thailand (No. 135) and Indonesia (No. 181) in Group A.

Morale among the players is high and there is no reason to believe the Lions should be labelled as underdogs, said Baihakki.

"We've only trained together for less than a week and the teamwork was very good against Malaysia. With another month of solid training, we will be ready for the Suzuki Cup."

The lack of goals is one shortcoming that must be addressed. Singapore have scored six goals in seven international games this year.

During their victorious 2004, 2007 and 2012 AFF Cup campaigns, Singapore scored 23, 18 and 11 goals respectively, although they needed just nine to win in 1998.

Main striker Khairul Amri has 31 international goals, including nine strikes in six editions of the AFF Cup, but has managed just five goals for Garena Young Lions in an injury-plagued season.

The 31-year-old needs better support up front, said Faris, whose trickery on the wings is not reflected in a return of only four goals at international level.

He said: "We need to work harder on our finishing and not be half-hearted. When we play Thailand and Indonesia, it's unlikely we will dominate those games so we must finish off whatever chances we create."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 09, 2016, with the headline 'Lions sure of better days'. Print Edition | Subscribe