Football: Still far from perfect but Lions draw on positives in Fiji win

Lions debutant Jacob Mahler (left) joining his team-mates in celebrating Hariss Harun's goal. The midfielder's (No. 14) goal set Singapore on their way to a 2-0 win at the Bishan Stadium, their first under Fandi Ahmad.
Lions debutant Jacob Mahler (left) joining his team-mates in celebrating Hariss Harun's goal. The midfielder's (No. 14) goal set Singapore on their way to a 2-0 win at the Bishan Stadium, their first under Fandi Ahmad.ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

Captain and scorer Hariss says first win under Fandi is uplifting, coach calls for improvement

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Singapore 2 Fiji 0

He took a forearm to the face, a couple of jabs at his heels, a kick in the ankle, and even a knee wildly thrust into his back. But, every time Lions debutant Jacob Mahler was felled or even when he made a potentially costly mistake early on, he bounced back up and kept on going.

The 18-year-old, deployed as a defensive midfielder last night, epitomised Singapore's gutsy display as they overcame a physical Fiji side 2-0 in a friendly at the Bishan Stadium to give Fandi Ahmad his first win as interim national coach.

"We were not perfect - not at all - but we got a very positive result, a very important result for this team," said captain Hariss Harun.

"There is progress, we did better in some parts than the last game, but getting the victory was great.

"It gives us a feel-good factor, and it's important to carry on like this, especially mentally."

This was the Lions' first victory since a 3-2 friendly win against the Maldives in March and followed last Friday's 1-1 draw with Mauritius in what was Fandi's first game in charge.

It was Hariss who gave Singapore the lead in the 12th minute. He rose the highest to power in a header off a Zulfahmi Arifin corner before the Lions doubled their advantage just seconds after the resumption.

Gabriel Quak's long pass released Ikhsan Fandi, who kept his composure to take the ball under control and slot it between the legs of Fiji goalkeeper Misiwani Nairube.

However, the early promise faded and, while the Lions were largely in control, they looked poor at times against a Fiji side largely made up of amateur players.

Two goals in two minutes, including the second from striker Ikhsan Fandi (at right), gave Singapore a 2-0 win over Fiji in a friendly at the Bishan Stadium last night. The result gave Ikhsan's father, Singapore icon Fandi Ahmad, his first win as inte
Two goals in two minutes, including the second from striker Ikhsan Fandi (at right), gave Singapore a 2-0 win over Fiji in a friendly at the Bishan Stadium last night. The result gave Ikhsan's father, Singapore icon Fandi Ahmad, his first win as interim national football coach and the Lions their first win since a friendly against the Maldives in March. The Lions had been held 1-1 by Mauritius last Friday in his first game at the helm. Singapore took the lead in the 12th minute through captain Hariss Harun before Ikhsan doubled the advantage a minute later. The Lions will also play Mongolia and Cambodia next month as part of their preparations for November's Asean Football Federation Suzuki Cup, where they face Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines and Timor-Leste in Group B. Singapore will kick off their campaign on Nov 9 against Indonesia at the National Stadium. ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

Various players gave the ball away cheaply on several occasions, failed to make use of the ball when opportunities were presented, and even allowed the Fijians to break through their defensive lines.

TAKING ONE FOR THE TEAM

The knee in the back stung, but I don't mind putting my body on the line for my team. Even after I made that (early) mistake, I told myself that I had to stay positive and keep going.

JACOB MAHLER, Lions debutant, on his introduction to international football.

"We did make mistakes, but we learnt and bounced back. Several times we won the ball back within seconds - it's really about how you react, and I think we reacted well," said Hariss.

Like his skipper, Fandi preferred to draw on the positives.

"We definitely had to get the win. We assembled many young players, and needed the confidence, not just for the boys in the squad, but even for those outside, who will believe they can get a chance if they do well," said Fandi, who was acutely aware of his team's shortcomings.

"We were jittery, and didn't have the fluidity of the last game. We have to step up... against teams like Thailand, we cannot afford this."

Singapore will face the Thais, along with Indonesia, the Philippines and Timor-Leste in Group B of November's Asean Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup.

And Fandi called for a management of expectations.

He said: "Just don't expect too much. Football is a funny game, but it's good to stay positive.

"We're in the group of death and expectations are high. All I can say is that if we go down, we'll go down fighting."

And, in Mahler, the Lions have a young player who already embodies that very spirit.

"The knee in the back stung, but I don't mind putting my body on the line for my team," he said, of his "memorable" debut.

"Even after I made that (early) mistake, I told myself that I had to stay positive and keep going."

The Lions will next play Mongolia on Oct 12, then Cambodia four days later, as part of their preparations for the Suzuki Cup.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 12, 2018, with the headline 'Not perfect but a positive victory'. Print Edition | Subscribe