Football: Still on the drawing board

The Lions squad training at Geylang Field last week ahead of the Mauritius and Fiji friendly internationals. Among the areas coach Fandi Ahmad wants to improve on are a lack of concentration at times and the inability to capitalise on set pieces.
The Lions squad training at Geylang Field last week ahead of the Mauritius and Fiji friendly internationals. Among the areas coach Fandi Ahmad wants to improve on are a lack of concentration at times and the inability to capitalise on set pieces.ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

Positive vibes but Fandi will ring changes against Fiji to speed up Lions' transformation

He drew several positives from the last time the Lions took to the pitch, a 1-1 draw against Mauritius last Friday. And while Fandi Ahmad wants a good result to underline the work that has been put into the national team, he is poised to ring several changes tonight when Singapore face Fiji in another friendly at the Bishan Stadium.

In the 56-year-old's first game in charge, 169th-ranked Singapore came from behind to salvage a draw with a Mauritius side who sit 14 positions above them in the world football order. Fiji are world No. 165 in the Fifa rankings.

"I like the positivity in the players' attitude which is important. Everyone is eager and wanting to play, to fight for their spot. I saw a lot of good combination play and we were defending very well," said the former Singapore captain.

"But we've seen enough of some players and we hope to give others a chance. There will be four or five players coming in, and some senior players who didn't play will start.

"The result (tonight) is important, but we hope we have enough time to really build this team to become better."

One of those poised to return to the starting line-up is goalkeeper Hassan Sunny, who asserted that the national team are undergoing a metamorphosis that is already starting to take effect.

"I've only been back these last two weeks and what I've seen is something different (from before): everybody works hard on the field - we compete - but after training, we are a team," said the 34-year-old, who plies his trade in Thailand with second-tier side Army United.

UPBEAT PROGNOSIS

I like the positivity in the players' attitude which is important. Everyone is eager and wanting to play, to fight for their spot. I saw a lot of good combination play and we were defending very well.

FANDI AHMAD, the Lions' optimistic coach.

"I believed that our mindset needed to change, but when I came back I saw that we were already there. It's very positive."

There may be an intangible improvement in the Lions, but out on the field there remain several issues that need ironing out. It is a fact not lost on Fandi, who will not be taking the Fijians lightly.

He rued a lack of concentration, especially in the transition from attack to defence, and the inability to capitalise on set pieces, and hoped for a better showing tonight.

Fiji may have only two professional players - captain Roy Krishna, a forward with A-League side Wellington Phoenix, and 18-year-old Scott Wara, a youth player on the books of English second-tier side Stoke City - in a team who have an average age of 23.7 years. But recent results against South-east Asian opposition suggest that Fandi's charges will not have an easy time.

Under Frenchman Christophe Gamel, Fiji suffered narrow losses to Malaysia (1-0 in July), the Philippines (3-2 in March) this year, after securing a 0-0 draw with Indonesia last September.

"The way (Singapore) play is very advanced, they are all professional, with some players based overseas too. We know we will struggle at some point, but we are here to give our best in this tough game," said Gamel, who revealed that some of his "amateur" players are good enough to play professionally.

"We will try to win, of course."

•Tickets ($12 for adults, $6 for concession) are available from fas.org.sg/tickets and onsite at Bishan Stadium today.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 11, 2018, with the headline 'Still on the drawing board'. Print Edition | Subscribe