Football: Lions can 'play to strengths'
With a semi-final place in mind, interim national coach Fandi Ahmad has selected 23 players who will provide a blend of youth and experience for the Asean Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup.
The tactician announced his competition squad yesterday ahead of Friday’s opening game at the National Stadium against Indonesia.
And he believes he has a squad that can progress from a tough Group B that also includes defending champion Thailand, the Philippines and Timor-Leste.
Fandi said: “In this squad, we have the experienced players in (Khairul) Amri, Bai (Baihakki Khaizan) and Shahril (Ishak) who have led by example by putting in a lot of hard work on the pitch.
“We also have our younger players such as Jacob (Mahler), who have also done well though they only joined us in the recent months.
“We have faith in the team, together we will do our best, and God will take care of the rest.
“We have selected a group of boys whom we feel will allow us to best play to our strengths during the tournament.”
While the core of the team is built around veterans such as Shahril (137 caps) and Baihakki (133 caps) and former LionsXII players who won the Malaysia Super League title in 2013 like Faris Ramli (43 caps), Gabriel Quak (23 caps) and Safuwan Baharudin (81 caps), Fandi has also picked international rookies like midfielder Jacob (two caps), right-back Zulqarnaen Suzliman (three caps) and forward Iqbal Hussain (five caps).
The squad have an average age of 26.8 years. In 2016, when the Lions crashed out in the group stage after one draw and two defeats, the team had an average age of 27.5 years.
Seven players – defenders Irfan Fandi, Nazrul Nazari and Zulqarnaen, midfielders Adam Swandi and Jacob, and forwards Ikhsan Fandi and Iqbal Hussain – could make their AFF Suzuki Cup debuts.
GOALKEEPERS: Hassan Sunny (Army United FC), Izwan Mahbud (Nongbua Pitchaya FC), Zaiful Nizam (Balestier Khalsa)
DEFENDERS: Baihakki Khaizan (Udon Thani FC), Faritz Hameed (Home United), Irfan Fandi (Young Lions), Nazrul Nazari (Hougang United), Safuwan Baharudin (Pahang), Shakir Hamzah (Home), Zulqarnaen Suzliman (Young Lions)
MIDFIELDERS: Adam Swandi (Albirex Niigata), Hariss Harun (Johor Darul Takzim), Izzdin Shafiq (Home), M. Anumanthan (Home), Jacob Mahler (Young Lions), Gabriel Quak (Navy FC), Yasir Hanapi (Tampines Rovers), Zulfahmi Arifin (Chonburi FC)
FORWARDS: Faris Ramli (PKNS), Ikhsan Fandi (Young Lions), Iqbal Hussain (Hougang), Khairul Amri (Tampines), Shahril Ishak (Home)
LIONS’ GROUP B FIXTURES
FRIDAY, NOV 9
Singapore v Indonesia (National Stadium, 8pm)
TUESDAY, NOV 13
Philippines v Singapore (Panaad Stadium, Bacolod, 8pm)
WEDNESDAY, NOV 21
Singapore v Timor-Leste (National Stadium, 7.30pm)
SUNDAY, NOV 25
Thailand v Singapore (Rajamangala Stadium, Bangkok, 8pm)
Jacob, an 18-year-old Temasek Polytechnic aerospace electronics student, said: “A year ago, I was nowhere close to the national team and now, I am selected for the AFF Cup squad.
“It is a big honour and something that I am very proud of.
“If given an opportunity to play, I will do my utmost best and fight for my country.”
Missing out are defender and long-throw specialist Madhu Mohana (Tampines Rovers), left-back Ho Wai Loon (Warriors FC), midfielder Huzaifah Aziz (Balestier Khalsa), midfielder Zulfadhmi Suzliman (Tampines) and forward Khairul Nizam (Warriors).
Fandi, who was appointed in May, is unbeaten in his first four international friendlies in charge with three wins (2-1 against Cambodia, 2-0 against Mongolia and Fiji) and a draw (1-1 against Mauritius).
The team had just returned last Friday after a two-week training camp in Japan, where they played three non-international sparring matches (losing 3-0 to a top-tier J-1 club, 4-1 to a university team and 3-0 to a J-3 side).
The names of the opponents are not disclosed at the request of the Japanese teams.
Despite their winless record in Japan, national captain Hariss Harun believes the unity in the squad can propel the Lions to a good start on Friday with the backing of the Kallang Roar.
The midfielder said: “The team has been working very hard throughout the preparation phase, and now it’s time for us to show our worth as a team.
“We are one team, one family, both on and off the pitch, and I think we can achieve something great when we work together.
“Fan support is crucial in this tournament as we play our matches at home, and we look forward to having our fans pack the National Stadium this Friday to help us get off to the best possible start to our campaign.”
• Tickets to the matches against Indonesia and Timor-Leste start from $8, and are available on the Sports Hub website.
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