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Baby Step Forward Amid Voracious Skepticism

I am wondering if was it because we played both Mauritius (FIFA ranked 155th) and Fiji (165th) in our recent friendlies that the ridiculing of our football continues by some skeptics?


Granted the fact that both the aforementioned countries are not known for their football powress with someone even thought it was a rugby match when we took on the Fijians last evening, the two virtually unknown sides did, however, give Singapore national team some much-needed workouts in preparing for the upcoming AFF Suzuki Cup.

Baihakki Khaizan (5) restraining Fijian captain Roy Krishna
Instead of the "usual who" kind of opponents, I thought it was a refreshing change to see games against teams which allowed the Lions to expose to some robust kind of football aided by the opponents' much superior physical frames.

It was probably this kind of exposure that made a good introduction to a different level of football between the domestic and international one for debutantes like the Suzliman brothers with elder Zulfadhmi grabbed some of the limelights with his decent performance against Mauritius on the last Friday at the Bishan Stadium.

Ikhsan Fandi (center) scored in both Mauritius and Fiji game.
Barring the early slip that resulted the opener by former Etoile FC striker Jonathan Justin, the pairing of Safuwan Baharudin and Irfan Fandi, who was replaced by Baihakki Khaizan in the second half due to an injury, helped to stabilize the fort and covered Izwan Mahbud (later Hassan Sunny) well in the same match.

This departs from the "tendency redeployment" of Safuwan in the middle of any game to help out in the attacks during the time of previous Lions' coach V Sundram moorthy, thus enabled the Pahang defender to concentrate on his defensive duties.

Such stability was crucial to see Singapore picked themselves up quickly after the early jitters in the Mauritius game to see a much better performance in the second half on a wet, soggy surface to level the game through Ikhsan Fandi's first international goal in the 75th minute.

Shahril Ishak (17) met with resistance from Fijian's defenders
Hariss Harun (14) tussling with Fiji's Dave Radrigai (24)
"This was the best performance by the Singapore national team in two years," said a fan who wanted to be known as UAQC on his assessment after the match against the 'Les Dodos' (the nickname of Mauritius team). "I am impressed with the performance by (left back) Shakir Hamzah who shown the courage to take on players bigger than any of our local players."

"Credit must also gave to Shahril Ishak too, as he transformed the game after he came on in the second half, like the ball he set up for Ikhsan to level the score (in the 75th minute) which proved experience is still vital in this preparation for Suzuki Cup." he added.

The following game against Fiji not only saw national interim coach Fandi Ahmad made couple of changes in the starting eleven and also witnessed the international debut of the highly-rated 18-year-old Jacob Mahler in middle of the park.

Partnering skipper Hariss Harun in midfield, the Young Lions midfielder did not appear intimidated by those stocky built Pacific islanders.

In fact, so impressive was Mahler's debut that his performance even overshadowed that of the JDT stalwart, some observers claimed.

Mahler repaid faith shown on him by "Abang"
Said UAQC after the Fijian match:"Mahler was outstanding in this match with his display of composure despite being his first cap for Singapore."

"I would say he (Mahler) did well to make Hariss (Harun) looked ordinary in this game with his linking up in the attacking moves as soon as he disrupted the Fijians' momentum." the assistant engineer commented after the Lions won the match 2-0 with goals from Hariss and Ikhsan.

The win over the Bula Boys (the nickname of Fiji team) was the first for Coach Fandi since he took over the national hot seat back in May on interim basis and up next will see the Lions take on Mongolia on 12th of October before heading off to Phnom Penh to play Cambodia on 16th of October as part of the Suzuki Cup preparation.