Monday, June 14, 2021

Honeymoon Period is Over for Coach Yoshida

To sum up what went wrong in Saudi Arabia for the Singapore National Team is pretty straight forward when the writings were already on the wall prior to the resumption of the campaign.

Before the halt of the FIFA World Cup/AFC Asian Cup joint qualifiers almost two years ago due to the COVID-19 pandemic, everything was rosy for the perennial underachieving Lions.

Tatsuma Yoshida is Singapore National Football Team Coach
Coach Tatsuma Yoshida's (filed) honeymoon period is over 

Under Japanese coach Tatsuma Yoshida, the four-time Asean champions found a new lease of life by chalked up two wins, one draw and two defeats in Group D of the joint qualifiers - a performance that was lauded by many in a group that included regional heavyweights like Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan.

Unfortunately, unforeseen circumstances saw the Lions and rest of the region endured a lengthy international break since the postponement of the qualifying matches in last August was announced by both FIFA and AFC, that positive momentum enjoyed by the Singaporeans had to come to a premature end.

The ongoing pandemic proved to be a challenge to every aspect of our daily lives and not just to football too.

With stringent travelling restrictions imposed due to the pandemic, it was impossible to schedule any friendly games in recent months to give the Lions the much needed match practice with the sparring game against Afghanistan in UAE was the only warning up before the resuming of the joint qualifiers.


NOT JUST THE MISSING TRIUMVIRATE
It was easy to single out the unavailability of the triumvirate of skipper Hariss Harun, defence lynchpin Safuwan Baharudin and target man Ikhsan Fandi as the key reason why the Lions could not live up the expectations but any keen observer would also noticed the comments made by Coach Yoshida before the beginning of the joint campaign.

A file picture of Singapore football defender Safuwan Baharudin
Safuwan Baharudin (filed) was one of those out of action

Not once but twice had the one-time Jurong FC player highlighted the lack of playing time of some of those he selected.

Speaking to The New Paper before the friendly against Afghanistan, the 47-year-old stated the objectives of the said friendly before added on:" ... some of them did not get many playing opportunities in their clubs, they can use this game to get more (playing) time and get back the match-playing feeling.", a similar quote as mentioned in a separate interview with the FAS website after the match played at the Iranian Club in Dubai.

NOT ROCKET SCIENCE
Winger Hafiz Nor, who started the game against Palestine, was one of those short of the playing time when one online portal reported the Lion City Sailors player only "played 61 minutes of SPL football out of 990 minutes."

It is not rocket science that our aim was to make it to the Asian Cup, given the positive start to the joint qualifying campaign two years ago and definitely more game time should be given to those over the age of 23 in the Singapore Premier League (SPL) for much needed match practice.

Shouldn't the league authority scrapped the controversial U23 quota just for this season to fulfil the Asian Cup dream?

Shakir Hamzah in Singapore National Football Team training in 2019
Shakir Hamzah's (filed) late withdrawal sent shockwaves 

However, with the biennial SEA Games also scheduled at the end of this year (despite media reports claimed it might be postponed), the existing U23 quota has to remain in the place for such purpose in the chase of that elusive regional glory which is still remain out of reach despite success in the senior Asean level.

With such unfavourable circumstances and coupled with the shock withdrawal of Shakir Hamzah before the closing match against Saudi Arabia which saw the Lions losing three-nil, one thing for sure is - the honeymoon period for Coach Yoshida is over, even though it was not entirely his fault.

Monday, May 31, 2021

"Matchpix" - March - May 2021

  •  Friendly - Geylang International 2-1 Balestier Khalsa 060321
Balestier's 'keeper Zaiful Nizam stretched to his limit
Balestier's 'keeper Zaiful Nizam stretched to his limit

Like the players too, those on the sidelines must also have their preparation for the new season. One of the challenges taking pictures at places like OTH is the unpredictable shades that cover the field during a game. Therefore, playing around with the settings is part of the acclimatising too.

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  • SGPL - Balestier Khalsa 1-2 Tampines Rovers 170321
Balestier's Shuhei Hoshino (red) tussling with Tampines' Baihakki Khaizan

The AIA Singapore Premier League match between Balestier Khalsa Football Club and Tampines Rovers Football Club started on time on a greasy field due to the heavy rain prior the game.

Stags' Taufik Suparno opened the account in 56th minute before Amer Hakeem levelled for the Tigers in 67th minute but the hosts' joy was temporary when Boris Kopitovic placed Stags back on the pole position in 69th minute and walked away with their first three points of this season from dim-lighted Toa Payoh Stadium .

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  • SGPL - Balestier Khalsa 4-0 Tanjong Pagar United 040421
Jaguars' Reo Nishiguchi looking for options from the flank

Balestier Khalsa notched their first three points of their AIA Singapore Premier League campaign when they crushed Tanjong Pagar United F.C. 4-0 on damp Toa Payoh surface.

Faizal Raffi opened the trigger on the 24th minute to give the hosts the lead, Kristijan Krajcek netted a brace with Sime Zuzul added his name on the scoresheet in the 55th minute.

While the Jaguars' woeful start of the season continued with this fourth consecutive defeat.

Before the match, a minute of silence as a mark of respect to the passing on of former international M Kumar.

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  • SGPL - Lion City Sailors 2-2 Albirex Niigata (S) 070421
"What is the issue, referee?"

This was a "do-or-die" battle for the perceived title favourites - Lion City Sailors to prove they are contenders and not pretenders.

Unfortunately, facing the understrength defending champions Albirex Niigata (S), the heavy spending Sailors had to come from a two-goal deficit to salvage a draw and unfamiliar spot in the standings that is soon to be familiar.

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  • SGPL - Balestier Khalsa 0-1 Hougang United 100421
Shawal Anuar fired in a cross despite the resistance 

This was one of the matches being played after the relevant authorities allowed limited number of fans back to the AIA Singapore Premier League matches.

Japanese striker Tomoyuki Doi added his season to 10 after his solitary strike in the second half saw the Cheetahs beat Balestier Khalsa 1-0 at Toa Payoh Stadium.

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  • SGPL - Tampines Rovers 3-2 Geylang International 160421
Moresche has been the bright spark for the Eagles

Thought it was a pity that a draw was a fair result given how Geylang came back strongly after twice in the game.

But it was a costly defensive blunder that saw Taufik Suparno came in unmarked to score the decider.

But credit to Geylang's 'keeper Zainol Gulam who kept the score low for put up a credible show after the heavy defeat to LCS days ago.

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  • SGPL - Young Lions 0-4 Tampines Rovers 020521
Tampines' Boris Kopitovic watches as YL's Dylan Pereira saved a shot

The only thing came to my mind after settled down all my thoughts on this outcome is - are these Young Lions boys capable to play at a higher level after they "graduated" from the setup?

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Wednesday, May 19, 2021

OFTEN FORGOTTEN - THE SHADOWED SIGNIFICANCE OF LIONS' ASEAN GLORIES

Most of those relive-the-glory-days moments would always have that 1994 Malaysia Cup winning video shown but overlooked the few other notable moments - the 1998 victory over Vietnam in Hanoi that saw us won our very FIRST international honour - the Tiger Cup before repeating the same feat in 2004 at Kallang when we won at HOME - in front of a full capacity (old) National Stadium and not forgetting the 2007 and 2012 moments of glories too.

The 1994 Malaysia Cup triumph moment, as seen in an exhibition at National Museum  
Yet many of times, many social media postings seems to favour the footages from the 1994 Shah Alam victory when come to savour that bit of nostalgia.

"It feels like you celebrate your 25th anniversary at work by showcasing the company that fired you as prelude." remarked a friend after seen it on AIA Singapore Premier League Facebook Page of the 1994 Malaysia Cup Final last year.

TESTAMENT FOR THE FLEDGLING S.LEAGUE
Don't get me wrong, while "1994" was a great moment for local football which I also celebrated the exploits of the Lions skippered by Fandi Ahmad aided by stars like Abbas Saad, Malek Awab, etc., the significance of the regional victories like those over both Vietnam and Indonesia in 1998 and 2004 (highlights clip of the second-leg 2004 AFF Championship final from AFF Suzuki Cup Youtube channel shown below) respectively are, however, greater.

Not only because those were regional accolades but also a testament for the S.League since the national players featured in that two regional victories were playing in the then fledgling competition.


The period between 1996 to early 2000s is considered by many as the "golden age" of the Republic's professional football league with influx of quality foreign players coupled with a number of emerging local talents who were at one stage facing each other from Bedok to Queenstown and Woodlands to Jalan Besar.

Therefore, those two Asean successes was a strong statement put forward to the critics who were skeptical if the move to start the S.League was a justified decision to move local football forward after Singapore pulled out from the Malaysian League after that 1994 triumph.

BACK IN 1977
Let us rewind back to 1977 and ask ourselves this question - fair to say "Uncle" Choo Seng Quee would rather win the World Cup qualifying match against Hong Kong in March than savouring that nail-biting Malaysia Cup victory months later?

After all, in a three-page article titled "THERE'S A NEED FOR A SOCCER REVOLUTION IN SINGAPORE" published in the June 1976 edition of the now-defunct "Singapore Soccer" monthly, the legendary coach stated he did not find it difficult to win the Malaya Cup on the two occasions which he helped Singapore to achieve when he was "on loan" from his employer - Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) in the 1960s.

"Uncle" Choo's article in June 1976 "Singapore Soccer" monthly

A triumphant FAS president N Ganesan (in business suit) hoisting the Malaysia Cup after the 1977 win

The Singapore team arrived at Paya Lebar Airport with the Malaysia Cup in 1977
"This is not a boast. Our goal should be the pinnacle in Asian football." declared the man whose Farrer Park nursery groomed many illustrious names that embedded the local football folklore.

The 1977 Malaysia Cup triumph over Penang is being immortalized in local football folklore because it was Singapore's first victory after twelve long years when we last won it in 1965, prior to that we had been losing to powerhouse Selangor on two previous years' finals.

THOSE AFTER 1994 SHOULD BE THE SAME AS WELL ...
It is probably because of the long history that many still see any Malaysia Cup victory a greater achievement than those Asean titles we won after 1994.

The significance of winning the Asean titles shall not be lesser than the 1994 Malaysia Cup victory, yet people are constantly being impressed upon the latter's achievement is greatly despite being a domestic honour, as compared to the regional honours we won after that.


It is time to correct that notion, if not, we are not moving local football forward in the right trajectory.

Perhaps, for a start we should start featuring more of the sights of Nazri Nasir (1998), Aide Iskandar (2004, 2007) and Shahril Ishak (highlights clip of the second-leg 2012 AFF Championship final from AFF Suzuki Cup Youtube channel shown above) hoisting up the AFF Championship trophy alongside the one that had Fandi Ahmad lifting the Malaysia Cup at Stadium Shah Alam.

Agree?

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