For The Record...
"In an interview with Yahoo! Singapore, Zainudin (Nordin, FAS President) reiterated that the S-league will not become a "poorer cousin" once the LionsXII start their Malaysia Cup campaign."

Friday, April 22, 2016

Tigers Bagged Three Points, Finally ...

He was shouting at the top of his voice whenever his team failed to string up some decent passes and would gesticulating frantically at any moment his team gave the ball away cheaply in the match.

However, at the end of the day what really matters to Coach Marko Kraljevic is the first three full points safety in the bag for his Balestier Khalsa side who prior to this match was the only team in the Great Eastern Yeo's S.League without a victory to their name.

Miroslav Kristic (extremely right) opened the account of the night
When asked after the two-nil win over the cellar-dwellers Garena Young Lions at their Toa Payoh base if his side would have scored a few more to make the win a more comfortable one given how the possession was dominated by their opponents, the former midfielder opined it's about the number of goals scored that win the games not the numbers of passes and possession hold by a team.

Said the Croatian coach:"Young Lions kept the possession in the game but it's not about how many passes you made to win, it's the number of goals you scored to win the game."

Adam Swandi (17) was replaced before the break due to injury
"It's not easy to play under this kind of pressure and I hope with this victory tonight, we will start to climb up." he added.

Despite two goals conceded, it was fair to say the visiting Garena Young Lions were the better side for the first half of this opening second-round fixture against their hosts, in term of possession holding.

Ironically, it was the mainly youth-based squad that caused an upset by beating one of the Republic’s AFC Cup representative back in February when the two first met.

Another Balestier's attack foiled by the Young Lions in second half
Khairul Amri's (19) free-kick ricocheted off the Tigers' wall 
Croatian striker Miroslav Kristic opened the account in the fourth minute before Fadli Kamis added on the second in the 38th minute to boast the buffer before the break, which in between that gap saw the Young Lions strung up passes and making runs around the Tigers' domain that only to find themselves clueless in making what it matters most - putting the ball to the back of the net.

To make things worse for the youngsters was the exit of striker Adam Swandi minutes before the interval following a knock on his face that saw him stretchered out of the game for treatment, late introduction of national striker Khairul Amri to beef up the visitors' firepower proved futile as well given his recent return to action after a lengthy injury.

Garena Young Lions' Coach Patrick Hesse talks to the media
Facing the media after being the only team that was beaten once by the rest in the league, Young Lions coach Patrick Hesse rued at those missed opportunities to score.

"We had the opportunities where we couldn't score." said the Frenchmen. "I think we made some good possession in the game, having 70 percent of the time and played two touches but was disappointed at how the crosses were delivered."

"Amri has not been playing for the past five months due to the injury, we hope to see him fit into the team as his experience is what we needed." added Coach Hesse on the 31-year-old star whose late introduction in the game saw his effort from a free-kick ricocheted off the Balestier's wall shortly before the game was over.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

End of #TheBerndStangeShow

One would recall how Bernd Stange - the former Belarus, Iraq, East Germany national coach was affable and approachable when he first took over as Singapore national team head coach back in 2013 from Serbian Raddy Avramovic for not refusing any "selfie" or photo request from anybody.

Such a demeanor would perceive he was then ready to adapt and assimilate into the far-from-desirable footballing infrastructure offered by the island republic when he mentioned he would make do with it when shown the rustic, run-down Geylang Field facilities stated he had seen worse cases in Iraq.

The first words I heard from him personally
Soon after which, he declared his intention to see the four-time Asean champions to play the "pass-and-move" game which he insisted it's how football is being played by many top sides in the world and quashed any thought that it's “Bernd Stange Football” when this blogger first met him in person months after he took the hot seat.

Despite the difficulties that waiting for him soon after he took over the reins, Coach Stange painstakingly tried to keep the morale high by constantly insisted things are on the path and controversially put a premature end to international careers of several established names like Daniel Bennett, Shi Jiayi, Fahrudin Mustafic, etc. stated that his team will be focusing on younger players as the base of the Lions in years to come.

Never short of telling us the young players is the future
Such a confidence shown by the man when he declared the players of Singapore Selection he chosen that faced Italian giants Juventus in the first-ever match played at the new National Stadium as the “future of Singapore football”.

Unfortunately, not many were convinced or shared that same confidence when there wasn't much to cheer about whenever the Lions took onto the field in recent years and saw the Republic ding-dong around the FIFA ranking of between 140s to 150s, in spite of those astronomical figures spent on programs like the “mass-mobilization” that saw the unprecedented combination of both Lions and Cubs touring Austria for the tuning up for both AFF Suzuki Cup or the SEA Games.

Thus, it wasn't a surprise to see many to call for the resignation of Coach Stange after the humiliating defeat by Malaysia in the Suzuki Cup that knocked Lions out of the tournament they tried to defend as reigning champions on home turf.

Some pointed out if the lack of quality sparring opponents, which he promised to bring at the start of his reign, for the team being one of the stagnancies not allowing Singapore football to break out of Asean level.

On the controversial remarks on the National Stadium
"No top teams want to play on artificial surface (of National Stadium)," lamented Coach Stange in response to that during the pre-match press conference of the friendly against Guam.

Such a response immediately drawn a strong rebuttal from SportsHub, the operators of the 55,000-seater stadium and had the German claimed he was misquoted in the earlier session after the came-from-behind draw against the Pacific Islanders.

Save for the gratification of that 0-0 draw against the mighty Japanese in the ongoing Asian Cup qualifiers, there are not many positivities to talk about for the rest of Coach Stange's tenure which also saw the acrimonious public spat between him and former Courts Young Lions coach Aide Iskandar following the disastrous SEA Games campaign last year.

One of the fiery exchanges with the media
As his days are numbered at Jalan Besar Stadium, the 68-year-old eventually admitted he “might have underestimated the challenges facing Singapore football” in a recent interview.

Fair to say both Stange and his predecessor Avramovic were let down by an inadequate youth development system that failed to churn out players for the national team given the lack of pluralism in the existing framework? Up to individual to decide on that.

However, it doesn't matter who is the next Singapore National coach, be it a local or a foreigner again, what is essential to have someone who can fit into the current system seamlessly to work alongside FAS Technical Director Michel Sablon to revamp and kick start the conveyor belt for producing players for the Lions.

Must be one of his biggest regrets
For Football Association of Singapore (FAS), it's also important to lay things clear on the table to whoever is going to replace Coach Stange as the next Singapore national football team coach the genuine circumstances facing the local game, in order to avoid the same “underestimation” admitted by the former Perth Glory coach mentioned earlier.

The next man at helm must avoid making any bold statement we are accustomed to for the past three years, stay firm on the ground.

Meanwhile, the rest of the stakeholders must be patient and realistic of the current doldrums we are in.

Coach Stange's stats for the Lions
After all, like many said Alex Ferguson revived the famed Manchester United youth academy to build on and enjoyed those successful years on the later stages. Likewise, Singapore football must have the same mindset and patient to see us harvest the crops in years to come.

With the result in Tehran saw Singapore lost 2-1 to Afghanistan, it's time to see the Saxony native penciled another name on his CV and also signalled the end of "The Bernd Stange Show" by this blog as well.

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

[AFC Cup] Tigers Upset HK's Kitchee To Notch First Win of The Year ...

Unfancied Balestier scored their first win of the year
Not only Balestier Khalsa got their first victory of the year last evening at the AFC Cup by causing an upset by defeated Hong Kong powerhouses Kitchee SC at the Jalan Besar Stadium, the win also placed them at the top of the Group F table after Kaya FC of the Philippines beat Maldives' New Radiant with the same scoreline

Against the run of play with the visitors dominated much of the possession, Balestier took the lead in the 31st minute when Zulkiffli Hassim made no mistake from a cross floated in from the right from Fadhil Noh.

"I am not surprise as I had a feeling that I will score," said Zulkiffli on the solitary goal he scored that gifted the Tigers their first competitive win of this season. "And I am happy that we won this game with this goal."

"Zul" was on his way out of JBS before sharing his thoughts
"I think tonight we played very compact and defended well against Kitchee who did a lot of attacking against us.

"To win the three points to place at the top of our group is a good result for us." added the 30-year-old.

The Tigers could have double that tally eight minutes later when Miroslav Kristic was fouled in the box by Kitchee's custodian Wang Zhenpeng which left little option for the referee to point to the spot.

Unlucky Kristic (right) failed to find target
But Wang immediately atoned himself by dived to the right direction to deny the Croatian striker from completing his routine on a night that saw him largely being isolated upfront with the hosts continued to stick to their proven defensive game plan that causing frustration to opponents they faced so late.

Balestier's coach Marko Kraljevic attributed hard work that paid off in achieving this result.

"We worked hard and it paid off." said the Croatian tactician after the game that was watched by a crowd of 1,048.

"We did not expect to be at the top," added Coach Kraljevic after being told the result of the Kaya-New Radiant match. "But it will not be easy and be tough to play away against Kaya." as the Tigers are due to face the reigning United Football League (UFL) Cup holders in a week's time in Manila.

Emir Lotinac (top center) is doubtful for next game
Back on the match itself, the 50-year-old Singapore permanent resident suggested the missing of key players in Kitchee would explained why they were not able to display the brand of football that tormented Singapore clubs in the same tournament in recent years.

"They (Kitchee) missed Jordi (Spanish striker Jorge Tarres Paramo) but we also missing a few of our own and that's why we tried to defend well, attacked them on counters with Kitchee's defence looked shaky."

"With this win tonight, we hope to build on it for our season." concluded the former midfielder.

Kitchee's Rufino Del Burgo (17) missed "Jordi" upfront
Despite the undesired result that saw the Hong Kong side conceded their first lost to a Singapore side at JBS since 2008, interim coach Alex Chu of the reigning Hong Kong Premier League champions still believe his side can make to the knockout phrase of the competition - a feat they have been maintaining since 2012 when they rejoined after a lapse of four years.

"I am still confident that we can make it to the next round of the tournament," said the man who serves as the club's director of football who took over the hot seat after the recent departure of former head coach Abraham Garcia merely days ago.

"We created but couldn't score those chances in the game and Balestier's defending made our game difficult.

"I believe factors like humidity and recent number of games we played had made our players tired but we will keep on fighting to do well in both AFC Cup and Hong Kong League."

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

"No Point Being A BIG FISH In The Pond"

Young Lions' sponsorship by Garena is biggest to date (credit: FAS)
"Resources have always been a key constraint faced by the FAS. This record deal represents a great vote of confidence for our programmes, ...The money will be spent wisely on the development of our most promising young talents, and to build the next generation of National Team players." declared Zainudin Nordin (pictured above, second from right), the president of Football Association of Singapore (FAS) after the landmark deal that saw Garena, Southeast Asia’s largest Internet and mobile platform company, named as the main sponsors of the de-facto national developmental squad playing in the S.League.

If people do not pay close attention to those words appeared in the press release that was released weeks ago, would they think the $4,000,000 deal was meant for youth development and not solely for the newly-named Garena Young Lions (GYL, formerly known as Courts Young Lions after the partnership with IT and furniture retailing giants ended last year)?

SHOULD PRIME LEAGUE BE IN FOR THE WINDFALL?
As what the former mayor of Central Singapore CDC highlighted "money will be spent wisely on the development of our most promising young talents, and to build the next generation of National Team players", so there should be no doubt it would be for the betterment for largely flawed youth development of local football on whole.

But it is not the case when it is meant to be the package solely for the mainly Under-21 team for the next two years. It's not difficult to ask if the Prime League, the lower tier league below the S.League, should be the appropriate beneficiary of this windfall?

Your typical Prime League setting - 5pm on Saturday (file picture)
Since the competition that comprises of teams from six local S.League clubs (sans the likes of Albirex Niigata(S), Brunei DPMM and GYL) plus two National Football Academy (NFA) age-group teams - NFA U17 and U18, is to serve as a breeding ground for players for bigger stage.

LACK OF FACILITIES 
Despite the importance of its mission, the league, however, is a much neglected tournament with frequent changes of fixtures, lack of training facilities, etc.

Lamented a former player who weighted in his opinions on those mentioned problems.

"One of those problems we have in Singapore is the lack of fields when those stadiums are not owned by the clubs and resulted issues like clubs can't conduct their training sessions at their allocated grounds.

"Also most teams don't train together well enough when some players can't attend training due to factors like school commitments, etc."

"My former club would issue letters to seek permission from our schools for early release to allow us to attend our training, but then they have no obligation to accommodate those requests." said this former player who left the scene to seek employment in other industry.

"As the result, it affected the coaches who wanted to plan their training in getting their players to hit a certain peak level in their performance." he added.

Irfan Fandi (middle) in action for NFA U16 in 2013 (file picture)
Furthermore with those two NFA teams taking on teams filled with players of older age-group in the Prime League and likewise for the case of GYL (many of whom are under the age of 21 in this year's campaign) in the S.League, questions were raised if such an "unbalance" circumstance is detrimental in players' development, since at such age-group is considered a “make-or-break” period in their game advancement.

Those concerns are not unfounded of when the past statistics did not convince the presence of having the developmental squad had enhanced the standard of play in the league and many notable names emphasized having played under guidance of senior players during their formative years improved their game.

Nonetheless, such notion was disputed by one observer when sharing his thoughts on this possible "detrimental" factor.

DEVELOP BY THE HARD WAY
Speaking on condition of remaining anonymous, he opined:"They (GYL) may struggle in the S.League but along the way they will develop and that's more important for them now, not results!"

He applied the same argument on those NFA age-group sides competing in the Prime League when he continued:"They (NFA sides) have to be challenged. No point being a big fish in the pond, better be a small fish in the ocean!"

"As coaches always said, you need matches to see how (and where) you stand. And these players will need to play against big and strong opponents to learn before playing on international levels.

"These players (of NFA teams) are chosen as they're one step higher than their peers plying their trade in the Prime League."

"Therefore, it is good that these specially selected groups of players will play and gel together as a team at that level before promoting to the next stage along with their coaches who have been guiding them."

A COE match played in the old Police Academy (file picture)
Concurring those theories was lifelong GYL fan Rennard Ho Zhao Xian who voiced his opinions in a relevant posting recently on this blog's Facebook page.

He went on to suggest the inexperience of the developmental squad at the senior level that saw them being overwhelmed all along may not necessarily recur in either Prime League or even the amateur National Football League (NFL) level given the skill levels they possessed.

Said Ho:"The Young Lions are in a weird position because they're too good for the NFL and the Prime League, yet (possibly) not good enough for the S.League.

"We could either put the team in the Prime League - where they would secure victories rather easily or pit them against the likes of, let's say, Jermaine Pennant (of Tampines Rovers)." said the 19-year-old student citing a pre-season result that saw they defeated Geylang International Prime League squad on an eight-one scoreline.

"Either way, the FAS seems to think that the Young Lions project has served Singapore football well, which cannot be fully proven right nor wrong, isn't it?

"Match experience does help these players, and given that we only have one professional league we don't really have a choice."

Monday, February 15, 2016

Uniform Duo Shared Spoils in Fiery Outing in Bishan ...

Song Ui-young tussled with Hafiz Nor (11)
The league opener for the Uniform Duo of Home United and Warriors FC ended in a two-all draw in the last evening at the Bishan Stadium, which last staged an S.League match back in 2014 after it was selected as one of the venues for the biennial South-East-Asian Games a year later.

Prior to the start of this much-hyped campaign saw both sides went through a massive reshuffling in their squads that saw a few notable signings laden onto their rosters with likes of Madhu Mohana, Yazid Yasin recruited from the disbanded Lions XII and Geylang International respectively to Warriors who also welcomed back the likes of Hafiz Osman, Shaiful Esah and Ismail Yunos to the fold.

While Home United impressed upon the rest with new names like Faris Ramli, Khairul Nizam, Zulfahmi Arifin (from Lion XII), the two sons of local legend Fandi Ahmad – Irfan and Ikhsan Fandi while retained the core of their squad from last season that included their import trio of Song Ui-young, Ken Ilso and Sirina Camara.

Protests by HUFC's players on the penalty awarded on 33rd minute
Jonathan Behe (raised to salute) after levelled from spot in 35th minute
In spite of the stellar cast in place on this fixture that coincided on the Valentine's Day, there were no shortage of actions that characterized the passions of any uniform derby between the two that somehow turned ugly in the match when six yellow cards and a red was flashed out referee Farhan Mohd during the game.

The Protectors drawn the first blood in the 17th minute when striker Nizam pounced on the rebound off the woodwork from an Aqhari Abdullah's attempt to give the hosts the lead before a penalty decision in the 35th minute, which was vehemently protested by Home United players, saw debutant Jonathan Behe levelled the scores for the Warriors from the spot.

Both sides tried to outwit each other as the game continued in the second half with countless of chances created but were misfired throughout the night.

So when Sirina Camara finished off from close-range from an Azhar Sairudin's dead-ball from outside in the 82nd minute, the Protectors thought they had all three points in the bag until substitute Fazli Jaffar ensured the spoils were shared in the 91st minute.

Madhu Mohana (right) was given the marching order after this
However, the night was marred by the sending off of Madhu after he shoved Irfan Fandi onto the ground which left the referee with no option but a straight red in an otherwise entertaining game which was feted by both teams' head coaches in their post-match assessment.

Said Warriors FC's coach Jorg Steinebrunner:"We had three one-to-one chances in the first half which we would have taken the lead which unfortunately we didn't,

"I think my defence looked more composed in the second half by made it less penetrative for them (Home United) to create any chances and to score an equalizer (in the last minute) shows a good character in my team but I think there are rooms for improvement and we must remain optimistic."

"However, it was a good game for the fans." added the German.

Ken Ilso shielded the ball from Kento Fukuda
Meanwhile, a visibly disappointed Home United coach Philippe Aw greeted the media when took his seat in the media briefing.

"Two points dropped after we took the lead for a period of time when we were dominating the game which we could have made it 3-1." said the 40-year-old.

"Chances were created that were not finished and I am unhappy how we conceded those goals which came from nothing which we must learn not give away such goals.

"Nonetheless, it was an end-to-end match which the fans enjoyed some good football." he added.

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