SINGAPORE PREMIER LEAGUE
Home United v Young Lions
Bishan Stadium, 5.30pm
They had a taste of blood, and now the Young Lions want more.
Tipped by many to struggle in the Singapore Premier League (SPL) this season, Fandi Ahmad's charges pulled off a massive upset last week when they beat a Hougang United team boasting several senior national players 2-1.
The young guns, lying seventh in the nine-team table, are hoping to build on the victory when they take on sixth-placed and SPL pre-season title hopefuls Home United today at the Bishan Stadium.
Striker Saifullah Akbar, who scored the winning goal against Hougang, said he and many of his teammates benefited from a three-week overseas stint with the national Under-22 team, also coached by Fandi.
Fifteen Young Lions players were among the 24-strong U-22 squad that went on a two-week training camp in Shizuoka, Japan, before playing qualification matches in Mongolia for next year's AFC Under-23 Championship.
Singapore failed to progress to next year's finals after finishing second in their group. They had drawn 1-1 with Hong Kong and North Korea and beaten Mongolia 3-1.
Saifullah, 20, said: "In Japan and Mongolia, we played against opponents who were physically, tactically and technically stronger.
"Doing well on both trips gave us the belief we could match the top SPL teams when we returned here. And that has been key - belief."
Young Lions skipper Joshua Pereira added: "In Japan, we had double training sessions every day, and did not have outside distractions we have back in Singapore like school, work or National Service.
"The win against Hougang felt exceptional, but we know we have to keep our feet on the ground and try to do it again in our next game against Home."
Fandi, 56, refused to get carried away by the win over Hougang - in pre-season, he had simply targeted avoiding the wooden spoon - but added that he was pleased with the competition among his players.
He said: "Everyone wants a place in the team, and everyone's fighting for it.
"The SEA Games (in the Philippines from Nov 30-Dec 11) is the next big target and the players are all eager to prove themselves."
Despite his team's fine form, Fandi said they will start today's match as the underdogs.
Home have kept three straight clean sheets and also defeated Laotian champions Lao Toyota 1-0 in the AFC Cup on Tuesday.
But Home coach Saswadimata Dasuki is fretting over his attack.
Last season's 13-goal forward Shahril Ishak and Australian midfielder Isaka Cernak are sidelined with ankle injuries while South Korean midfielder Song Ui-yong, with 10 goals last campaign, is struggling with a groin problem.
Saswadimata said he was impressed by the Young Lions, noting: "They were very disciplined and very organised, both defensively and going forward.
"They are young, but they compensate by working really hard for each other and being organised.
"We will find it tough to break the Young Lions down."