Saturday, November 29, 2014

AFF Suzuki Cup 2014: Singapore vs. Malaysia - Preview

Singapore and Malaysia will face off in a potential elimination game tonight at 8 pm. As things stand, Thailand - who have already qualified for the next round - lead Group B with 6 points, Singapore are next with 3, and Malaysia and Myanmar have a point apiece courtesy of their goalless draw. 

Aside from Thailand's progression, little else in Group B has been settled. Below are some possible scenarios:

1. Singapore will top Group B if they beat Malaysia and Thailand lose to Myanmar. Malaysia and Myanmar will be eliminated.

2. Singapore will finish second in Group B if Thailand beat Myanmar and either (1) Singapore beat Malaysia or (2) Singapore draw with Malaysia. Malaysia and Myanmar will be eliminated.

3. Singapore will (finish third or fourth and) be eliminated if (1) they lose to Malaysia, regardless of the other result or (2) they draw with Malaysia and Myanmar beat Thailand by four or more goals.

The first-placed team in Group B will face the Philippines in the next round; the runner-up will take on Vietnam.

Team News: Singapore

Singapore goes into the new National Stadium's inaugural "Causeway derby" without two key players - Baihakki Khaizan (suspension) and Shahdan Sulaiman (injury). Defender Safuwan Baharudin, who has conceded two penalties in two group games, is on a yellow card; a booking tonight will keep him out of the first leg of the next round of games. Wing-back Ismadi Mukhtar picked up a knock in the Singapore-Myanmar tie and is a likely game-time decision.

Team News: Malaysia

Malaysia, in comparison, enter this fixture with its full complement of players. Central midfielder Gary Robbat, who was sent off in the Tigers' first group fixture against Myanmar, may return to Malaysia's starting lineup.

The Skinny

Singapore-Malaysia matches - even friendlies - have always been keenly-followed affairs; now, with so much at stake for both sides, this meeting promises to be a cracker. So many signs point to this tie being a memorable one: new home turf, new coaches (both Bernd Stange and Dollah Salleh are overseeing their debut Suzuki Cups) and, perhaps most importantly, the same old die-hard fans and their considerable expectations.

Singapore's recent results under coach Stange have been lukewarm. While the players have finally shown signs of having taken the coach's philosophy on board, their tournament play has been as patchy as it has been eye-catching. Thailand and particularly Myanmar had their way with Singapore for extended periods in their respective games, depriving the Lions of ball possession and incessantly getting in their faces. As good as Singapore have looked on the ball at times, it is their off-ball play, particularly in defence, that has to improve if they are to advance from Group B, let alone be taken seriously as title contenders.

This is particularly because this Malaysia team has the ideal set of tools to cause the Singapore players headaches. In Gary Robbat and the excellent Safiq Rahim, the Malayisan team boasts quality central midfielders capable of winning, retaining and using the ball well; in S. Kunanlan they have the exact pacey devilish winger prototype that has caused Singapore the most grief thus far this tournament. Malaysia will no doubt be looking to keep the ball and apply constant pressure on Singapore's backline so as to render Stange's new-school possession-based approach redundant.

Tactical Analysis and Prediction

As mentioned earlier, Singapore will be without Baihakki Khaizan for the match. This necessarily means that coach Stange will either put influential midfielder Hariss Harun in central defence and introduce another starter in central midfield or keep Hariss in midfield and start a replacement at centre-back.

According to local media, Stange is likely to pursue the former course of action by starting the left-footed schemer Zulfahmi Arifin in the heart of the midfield where, presumably, he will play alongside Shahril Ishak and Shahdan Sulaiman's replacement (who is unconfirmed as yet). Stange seems adamant about the utility of his possession-based tactical approach, and is likely to follow it to the bitter end through his preference for ball-player types.

This would be a disastrous decision, as it would deprive Singapore's midfield of both Hariss' dynamism and any semblance of experience. Any replacement for Shahdan is likely to be an attacking player - or Hafiz Sujad, who is a wide defender by trade. I don't hold out a lot of hope that a hypothetical midfield three of Zulfahmi-Hafiz-Shahril will stand up to the task of having to play both ends of the field for 90 minutes, especially since everyone knows that Shahril operates in advanced positions, leaving Zulfahmi and Hafiz to try to clamp down on Gary Robbat, Safiq Rahim and company.

I would instead argue a case for playing Shakir Hamzah in central defence beside Safuwan. Firstly, both of them have been LionsXII teammates for a while and thus there should be no problems with adaptation and fit. Secondly, as a regular in the LionsXII rotation Shakir would have become fairly familiar with the Malaysian forwards' play styles. Thirdly, it would allow Hariss to remain where he is clearly best at. Fourthly, Zulfahmi's performances in limited minutes thus far have been unconvincing; further, his languid, patient style of play appears far better suited for the lower-tempo S-League or MSL play and might be out of place in a potentially frenetic encounter like this. 

This is especially so given how Malaysia is likely to go for broke in attack in this fixture. The forward line, while not wholly convincing thus far, nevertheless reads like a who's who of Southeast Asian football: Safee Sali, Norshahrul Talaha, Amri Yahyah and the veteran Indra Putra Mahayuddin are all capable of game-turning plays on their day. Having Hariss in the midfield will alert Malaysia to the possibility of getting caught out on the counter enough to keep them honest.

Finally we get to the Singapore attack: all signs point to Stange keeping his usual front three of Sahil Suhaimi, Faris Ramli and Khairul Amri for this match. There are other available options too: Fazrul Nawaz might have a role given his pace, physique and defensive work, and even Ismadi Mukhtar, if healthy, could see time on the wings. Again, Stange feels like he can get the Lions to play keep-ball and impose his system on the opposition; if that were the case, he has every reason to retain his starting frontline. However, as mentioned, this looks to be the sort of brutal encounter where tactical nuances fly out the window and instincts and sheer bloody-minded physicality come to the fore. 

Hence, my projected starting line-up for the Lions would look like this: (4-3-3) Hassan Sunny; Al-Qaasimy Abdul Rahman, Safuwan Baharudin, Shakir Hamzah, Shaiful Esah; Hariss Harun, Hafiz Sujad, Shahril Ishak; Ismadi Mukhtar, Khairul Amri, Fazrul Nawaz.

However, the likelihood is that Stange - who has developed a reputation for consistency (stubbornness?) - will play this lineup instead: (4-3-3) Hassan; Ismadi, Safuwan, Hariss, Shaiful; Zulfahmi, Hafiz, Shahril; Sahil, Khairul, Faris.

My prediction - based on how Stange will have Singapore play, not what I think the tactics ought to be - is that Singapore, weighed down by the expectations of having to get a result against their neighbours and rivals on their new home turf, will have a nervy-as-hell start. However, the Malaysian team might run itself dry trying to grab goals while keeping tabs on the Myanmar-Thailand result. A 1-1 draw it is, then.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

LionsXII: 2012 MSL Season Review (Part Two)

In this portion of the review, we will be looking at the best player in various aspects of the game and then finally who makes the 2012 LionsXII best eleven.

Top Goalscorer: Shahril Ishak. With a team-leading ten league goals, Shahril beats out next-best scorer Shahdan Sulaiman by two.

Scorer of the Top Goal: Sufian Anuar. You have to watch the whole goal to truly appreciate its difficulty. The Lions strung over twenty passes together before Shahdan Sulaiman backheeled the ball into the path of Sufian Anuar, who made his chip over the keeper at 1:32 in the clip look easier than it was. This goal was a rare display of collective touch and understanding and, in Sufian's case, neat finishing. Imagine if the Lions could play that way on a consistent basis.

Top Game: LionsXII 9-0 Sabah. What better game to select than a drubbing in front of the Jalan Besar crowd? Sure, the opposition was not the strongest, but the fact that the home side scored nine and did not surprise anyone speaks volumes about how well the Lions performed that game. While I have been a huge critic of the LionsXII's collective lack of cutting edge sans Shahril, the team showed what they can do against Sabah with some nice passing and a few neat finishes (particularly Hariss Harun's second goal - the one which put the Lions 3-0 up). Again - what if the Lions could produce like this with consistency?

Most Improved Player: Hyrulnizam Juma'at. The big goalie has played backup for much of his league career (to Jasper Chan at the Young Lions and then to the legendary Shahril Jantan at SAFFC) and generally done well without really raising eyebrows, but this past season he upped his game to a whole new level, ensuring that the time did not miss erstwhile first-choice custodian Izwan Mahbud. Hyrulnizam might have played his way into contention for more than just a back-up role in the next few national team squads.

Breakthrough Player: Shakir Hamzah. The left-back was seen as nothing more than a deputy at the start of the season, but injuries to players like Shaiful Esah gave him his chance. Since then, Shakir has established himself as a solid and reliable presence in the Lions' backline. Expect the youngster to build on this season's performances in the next few campaigns and establish himself as one of the better defenders in the region.

Best Eleven (lined up in a 5-4-1 formation with a diamond midfield)
Goalkeeper - Hyrulnizam Juma'at
Right-back - Madhu Mohana
Centre-back - Baihakki Khaizan
Centre-back - Safuwan Baharudin
Centre-back - Sevki Sha'ban
Left-back - Shakir Hamzah
Defensive midfield - Isa Halim
Central midfield - Hariss Harun
Central midfield - Shahdan Sulaiman
Attacking midfield - Shahril Ishak
Forward - Sufian Anuar

Sunday, July 15, 2012

LionsXII: 2012 MSL Season Review

The Lions' MSL season has officially ended, and Sundramoorthy's boys have finished the campaign in second place behind new champs Kelantan.

The players as a collective have done fairly well considering how hastily they were assembled and how little preparation they had before the season proper, yet one cannot help but feel that for the Lions to win the MSL title would not have been unrealistic had certain things gone their way.

Regardless, let us take a look back upon the Lions' first Malaysian campaign since 1994.

The positives, in brief:
  • Shahril Ishak
  • The reliability of both the first- and second- choice keepers
  • Shahril Ishak
  • Hariss Harun
  • Shahril Ishak
  • The fact that many different players got onto the scoresheet
  • The performance of the coaching team comprising Sundram, Kadir Yahaya, David Lee and company
  • Did I mention Shahril Ishak?
The negatives, in brief:
  • Apart from Shahril Ishak, the squad sorely lacked any cutting edge, especially in the final third
  • Some silly and totally avoidable defensive errors
  • Untimely injuries to various players
  • Not having Khairul Amri for easily three-quarters of the season
  • The forwards' poor goalscoring form

Clearly, the Lions were a different and much better outfit with their captain and talisman present in the starting lineup. Without him, their greatest attacking threat was lumping corners onto the heads of taller players like Baihakki Khaizan and Hariss Harun and hoping for some luck.

The LionsXII, as a collective, weren't spectacular or innovative by any measure, but they generally did play to their limits and strengths and for that credit must go to head coach Sundram and his staff.

Now onto the fun part: the analysis of the performance of each individual member of the LionsXII staff. As usual, an A+ is the best possible grade and an F the worst (full list: A+, A, A-, B+, B, B-, C+, C, D, F).

For starters, these are the players who did not garner enough playing time to merit a rating of any accuracy: Taufiq Rahmat, Shahir Hamzah, Safirul Sulaiman, Pravin Gunasagaran, Al-Faiz Ishak and Abdil Qaiyyim.

We start off with the goalkeepers who did see significant minutes. Izwan Mahbud started out the season as the first choice keeper and did relatively well, putting in generally mistake-free performances and being very solid. Then came his injury, and up stepped Hyrulnizam Juma'at who blew everyone's expectations out of the water by being much, much more than a replacement - he performed at such a high level that even Izwan's return did not affect his newfound status as the Lions' starting custodian. Izwan, on the basis of his general reliability and solidity, earns a B+, while Hyrulnizam gets an easy A for having the strength of character to step right into the lineup and produce amazingly consistent and stable displays.

The next group of players in the firing line are the central defenders. The de facto leader of the backline, Baihakki Khaizan, came into the season looking to erase his reputation as a mistake-prone defender with subpar attitude. Has he done so? Frankly, to a large extent, yes. Baihakki is one of those players where you have to take the good (height, heading ability) with the bad (occasional lapses), and this season, the good has largely outweighed the bad, so much so that the former Geylang man got a recall into the national set-up. The number five gets a B+ for his contributions at both ends of the field; the grade would have been higher had he not made the few errors that he did. His usual partner, Safuwan Baharudin, has long been hailed as the future of Singapore's defence. The keyword here is 'future' because Safuwan is an undoubtedly gifted defender but is still decidedly raw. His natural defensive instincts and tackling ability are noteworthy; his tendency to commit silly fouls and pick up unnecessary cautions equally significant. Safuwan's up-and-down season of goals, tackles and cards earns him a B-. The last key centre-back, Sevki Sha'ban, came into the season not expecting to see a load of playing time but eventually did, thanks to Safuwan's and Baihakki's time on the sidelines due to injuries and suspensions. Sevki is not as naturally gifted as his two fellow stoppers, but makes up for it with maximum effort and concentration. His season has been steady, as his B grade will show.

The full-backs have been a mixed bunch, what with the sheer number of players being used at the sides of the backline over the course of the season. Only the true full-backs are included in this group; the first, right-back Juma'at Jantan, has had a season that could be summed up in one word - 'meh'. Juma'at will plow up and down the right flank night in and night out and occasionally put in an awkward shift at defensive midfield, but the fact is that his shortcomings - a lack of technique and height - greatly hinder his development as a player at this level. Zero goals from a player who likes a pop at goal from distance is also hugely underwhelming, just like the C grade he gets. The other natural right-back, Madhu Mohana, suffers similar problems in that he has the touch of a sequoia tree and as much technical ability as a lamp post. However, he is a physically imposing player with a good long throw and has chipped in with his fair share of headers from corners. As a result, he gets a B- grade for reliably filling in at right-back and even making a case for himself over the more experienced Juma'at.

On to the left side of defence, where we kick off with Singapore's sweetest left foot, Shaiful Esah. Shaiful is the classic example of a player making the very most of what gifts he has; despite not being particularly quick, strong or skilful, Shaiful has been an important part of the lineup due to the fact that each time he steps up to take a free-kick or corner, he strikes fear and apprehension into the hearts of opposition defences. His two league goals, half-dozen or so assists and numerous dangerous deliveries earn him a B+ grade. Next up is the youngster Shakir Hamzah, who saw significant playing time especially in the middle of the season. Over the course of the season, Shakir's confidence in his abilities grew along with his chemistry with the other defenders. Shakir will never be a legtimate attacking threat like Shaiful is, but his poised, safety-first style sits just fine with me and for that he earns a good solid B+.

The only true-blue defensive midfielder in the squad who garnered significant playing time is Isa Halim. The former Woodlands player gave fans and opponents his usual doses of tough tackling, hard running and questionable passing. Isa is a physical marvel (reportedly, he is by far the best at doing pull-ups in the entire squad) but a limited footballer, and yet manages to carve out a niche for himself in the middle of the park simply because no one else can replicate what he brings to games. A lack of assists counts against him however, and therefore he can go no higher than a B.

Firdaus Kasman, Shahdan Sulaiman and Hariss Harun are the three Lions best described as central midfielders. We start off with Firdaus. Allegations of off-court misbehaviour aside, Firdaus has put in a few decent shifts in central midfield, showing laudable confidence and belief in his own abilities. He has occasional brain farts where he makes inexplicable decisions in the final third of the pitch; were that sorted out, we are looking at a heck of a player. As for right now, though, he gets himself a B-. Shahdan Sulaiman, the former Tampines Rovers schemer, is perhaps the team's best passer and distributor, as his team-leading assist total would suggest. The biggest surprise, however, is the fact that with eight league goals Shahdan is the team's second-highest scorer. The youngster has come a fair way this season, often having to be the go-to guy in the absence of captain Shahril Ishak. His contributions, both tangible and intangible, have been huge, and therefore get him a big fat A grade. The last and youngest member of this group, Hariss Harun, has had a season which at times bordered on the brilliant. Allying his usual tenacity and defensive savvy with improved distribution and attacking play, Hariss has truly developed as a player and hopefully will go on to achieve even greater things down the road. Five league goals (inclusive of a hat-trick against Sabah) are more than fair game for a player long viewed as more of an enforcer, and therefore Hariss nabs himself an A.

The wingers (Irwan Shah and Safirul Sulaiman on the left, and Yasir Hanapi, Raihan Rahman and Khairul Amri on the right) can be given a collective rating, because none of them really stood out, whether in a positive or negative sense. Of the five, Khairul Amri has easily the most talent and therefore the highest chance of doing something outstanding; the sad fact is that the former Young Lions and Tampines magician got so little playing time due to injuries and thus did not have much of an impact at all. Yasir, the nippy former Geylang winger, combined his direct running with a mixed bag of crosses: some good, some awful. Raihan Rahman did not feature for any significant stretch, but filled in at right-back and right-midfield where Sundram deemed necessary and did notch a couple of assists. On the other flank, Irwan put his obvious pace and agility to waste with poor touch and poorer delivery, while Safirul did not have much bearing on games due to not having important minutes. The wide men get a collective C for their collective mediocrity.

Now comes the best part of the review: the part reserved for captain, playmaker and star man Shahril Ishak. Is he a talent on par with the likes of Zinedine Zidane? Never in this life. Is he one of the best attacking midfielders in Southeast Asia? Certainly. Did he establish himself as the clear best playmaker in the MSL this last season? Absolutely. The fact that Shahril led the team in scoring is even secondary to how, at times, he was the Lions' only way forward and sole source of danger to opposing teams. A season like his certainly deserved the MSL trophy, but he will have to make do with an A+ and more from us over here in cyberspace.

And, just as we ascend to the skies, we fall down to earth with a resounding thud. The strikers who saw significant playing time - Khairul Nizam, Agu Casmir and Sufian Anuar - combined for eleven league goals, one more than Shahril managed by himself. We start out with Sufian - not a natural goalscorer, some say, and perhaps less liable to blame than the others. While Sufian does put in 110% effort each game and gives defenders fits with his energy and persistence, the fact remains that his primary role is to put the ball into the net, something that he does not do particularly well. If he were a consistent source of assists, that might be forgiven, but neither is he that, so he earns a mere B- for his troubles. Next up is Khairul Nizam, and for someone who was once labelled the next Fandi, he sure did his best to dissociate himself from that tag with some ineffectual displays and a meagre two-goal haul (for comparison's sake, Baihakki had two goals and Safuwan had three). Khairul is very much a raw player with some physical prowess but not a great deal of skill or instinct, and his C grade reflects that appropriately. Lastly, Agu Casmir gets a D despite the fact that he led all the strikers in goals scored with five. His goals were mostly tap-ins from negligible distances, and his general play at times bordered on the unwatchable. The hard truth is that relative to expectations and status (he started the season as the undisputed first-choice forward) Agu has had a thoroughly disappointing season, best encapsulated by his goal drought that seemed to last an eternity.

However, as much as the players played well or badly or whatever, some credit has to go to the coaching staff led by former Lions attacker V. Sundramoorthy. Sundram, in my book, gets a strong A for being fully aware of his side's strengths and weaknesses and setting them up in a way that maximised their good points and diminished their downsides. The Lions do not play attractive one-touch football nor do they counterattack with the precision and pace of Germany; they try as much as possible to play a fundamentally-sound game that lets playmaker and top man Shahril express himself and dead-ball experts Shaiful and Shahdan flourish. While the players may have displayed moments of boneheadedness or technical atrocity, that cannot be attributed to the way Sundram instructs his players to go about their business. I think that Sundram has a bright future as a head coach because he is sensible, pragmatic and possesses keen awareness of his players and their qualities.

Now that all that verbiage is out, it's time to sit back and appreciate how the Lions have on the whole met public expectation both in terms of league position and quality of play. Let's hope for a better 2013 season for the players, coaches, staff members and fans.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Home United 0-3 SAFFC

Hey world, I'm back! And what better time to return than just after the Warriors beat the stuffing out of the other uniformed team?

This match had everything: good goals, solid football, Frederic Mendy's usual handful of offside calls and even a first appearance in fifty years (maybe) by current goalkeeping coach and former first-choice custodian Rezal Hassan (who, suffice to say, wasn't looking in tip-top shape but probably had some fun basking in the big win).

The Goals
4th minute
- Shimpei Sakurada picks the ball up 30-odd metres from goal, takes a couple of touches to settle himself, and then unleashes a Goal of the Month-worthy homing missile into the net. Rezal in his prime wouldn't have come close to saving that one. 0-1 SAFFC

43th minute - A long ball is chased down by Fazrul Nawaz and Home United defender Franklin Anzite. Anzite seems to have the better of the situation, but inexplicably boots the ball off Fazrul and into a position that allows Fazrul to outpace him and slot the ball past a helpless Nazri Sabri from an acute angle. 0-2 SAFFC

66th minute - From the right wing, Tatsuro Inui slides the ball across to Aliff Shafaein, who takes a touch to beat his man and then unleashes a right-footed half-volley into the corner of the net. Another effort which the keeper had no hope of saving. 0-3 SAFFC

The Players
Lineup (Home United)
: (4-3-3) Nazri Sabri; Rosman Sulaiman, Franklin Anzite, Kenji Arai, Masrezwan Masturi; John Wilkinson, Song Ui-Yong (Jeremy Chiang), Shi Jiayi (Rhysh Roshan Rai); Firdaus Idros, Frederic Mendy, Indra Sahdan Daud

Lineup (SAFFC): (4-4-2) Shahril Jantan (Rezal Hassan); Razaleigh Khalik, Marin Vidosevic, Daniel Bennett, Zulfadli Zainal Abidin; Tatsuro Inui, Shimpei Sakurada, Shukor Zailan, Aliff Shafaein (Ruzaini Zainal); Fazrul Nawaz (Erwan Gunawan), Mislav Karoglan

Star Man (SAFFC): Shimpei Sakurada. This honour could have, really, gone to pretty much anyone, so high was their level of play against Home United. Sakurada edges his teammates this time on the virtue of his magnificently-taken goal and his 90 minutes of doing the simple things - tackling, distributing and receiving the ball - well.

Star Man (Home United): John Wilkinson. The former Warrior (incidentally, five ex-SAFFC players appeared for Home in the game) was at the heart of everything positive about Home, especially in the first 40 minutes, where Home were at their most threatening. His teammates, however, were guilty of putting his good work to waste - Shi and Anzite, from good Wilkinson free-kicks, missed very presentable headed opportunities.

Could Do Better (SAFFC): Mislav Karoglan. He didn't play badly or make any mistakes, but it is indicative of how high his standards usually are that he appears here simply for not scoring any goals. He did test the keeper a few times and made some clever passes around the Home box, but in a game where pretty much all of his teammates ran riot, 'Kari' should have stepped up his game likewise.

Could Do Better (Home United): Franklin Anzite. Anzite had a poor game today. He missed a good equalising opportunity, was directly at fault for the second goal, shanked a very presentable free-kick opportunity into the night sky, and got himself sent off for a silly headbutt on Shahril Jantan. Not only was he culpable for his team's loss, he might well have cost them in future with his imminent three-game suspension.

Other Thoughts
  • What is it with teams allowing their centre-backs to treat free-kicks within halfcourt as opportunities to smash the ball towards goal as hard as possible? Anzite messed up one free kick particularly badly; Vidosevic, at the other end, rammed a thirty-five-yarder straight into the Home wall when a cross or an indirect routine would have been better-advised. Sure, just because these guys are centre-backs does not mean that they automatically stink at taking free-kicks, but both teams have much better alternatives (Shi, Wilkinson or even Indra for Home; Inui or Sakurada for the Warriors) and surely would be better off letting these guys take their set-pieces for them.
  • I thought that the referees were generally good today, but they got one key decision horribly wrong - when Anzite nicked the ball from Shahril after the keeper had let the ball go, the refs shouldn't have blown for a foul. Obviously as an SAFFC and Shahril fan I was happy that they did, but the truth is that the keeper had already released the ball and therefore Anzite was completely entitled to touch it however and whenever he wanted. It's not like he kicked it out of the goalie's hands or anything. Having said that, Anzite was a fool for headbutting the SAFFC custodian and rightly got ejected from the game having put in a dire eighty minutes beforehand.
  • SAFFC's new signings, Vidosevic and Aliff, did well tonight. Aliff is a familiar face on the S-League scene; fans of Tampines Rovers, in particular, have witnessed many mazy runs, well-taken goals and nifty tricks from the dimunitive attacker over the years. I am, too, an admirer of Aliff's game; rare is the Singaporean player that has the skill and mentality to consistently beat his man off the dribble. Vidosevic looks like an astute signing, a typical SAFFC-style Croatian defender who loves to get into the thick of things and yet is comfortable on the ball as well. He'll probably get his fair share of yellows over the remainder of the season, judging from his aggressive style of play, but he'll endear himself to the fans with his commitment and attitude. He's already forged a decent understanding with stalwart Dan Bennett too.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Foreign Flops

Days ago, Geylang United terminated the contract of defender Oliver Nicholas, stating that they did so because Nicholas "[had] an off-colour training session". Nicholas came to Singapore with an impressive resume - he had played for the youth teams of Blackburn Rovers, Arsenal and Manchester City - and left with his reputation in tatters and without a club. Incidents like these make one wonder: do S-League clubs sign foreign players based on talent and ability or the mere 'need' to fill up their quotas?

We take a look at some overseas players whose S-League careers took similar trajectories to Nicholas'.

1. Leonardo Aleixo Costa (Woodlands Wellington, half a season)

The Brazilian forward became the S-League's tallest-ever player when he signed for Woodlands Wellington at the beginning of last season. His impact, however, was nowhere near as great as his stature; Woodlands sent him packing the very next transfer window, the two-metre-tall striker having scored just two league goals.

2. Niklas Sandberg (SAFFC, half a season)

This was billed as the 2010 season's biggest transfer deal: SAFFC had signed a former Swedish international midfielder with several years of European league play behind him. However, the deal turned out to be quite a disaster: Sandberg did put in some good performances but certainly did not live up to expectations and, citing homesickness, left for Sweden halfway through the season. He was eventually replaced by Ivan Jerkovic.

3. Renato Martins (Tampines Rovers, a few weeks)
Martins, like Sandberg, arrived in Singapore with enormous pedigree. However, just weeks into the 2001 season, he left for Gremio having just scored one league goal for Tampines Rovers.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

LionsXII: Termly Review

With about a third of the LionsXII's MSL fixtures gone, it's time to take stock of who's hot and who's not in the team.

LionsXII stats
Played 8, Won 4, Drew 2, Lost 2; Scored 10, Conceded 7; 4th position out of 14 teams

Top Player: Shahril Ishak
The captain has been at the heart of all things good in this side. Not only has he scored half of the LionsXII's ten goals, he's put in gut-busting shifts in various positions and been the sole source of creativity in an often predictable LionsXII team. Barring any injuries, Shahril should look to hit around 15-20 goals this season and give himself a shot at the top scorer award. Winning it would no doubt be an incredible achievement, especially for a midfielder in his debut season in this league.

Flop Player: Agu Casmir
When Agu first burst onto the S-League scene early this century, crowds and pundits alike were taken with his pace, hunger, energy and ruthless goalscoring instinct. He was Woodlands Wellington's franchise man, the one player who could cause opposing defenders to have palpitations before games. Now, several years on, Agu seems to have lost all of the above attributes; he is a mere shadow of his former (albeit awesome) self. With no goals to show this season, it should not take long for him to drop behind Sufian Anuar - who, though also goalless, is a source of assists - in the pecking order.

Step Up: Safuwan Baharudin
The talented young centre-back has not been at his rock-solid best thus far this season. He has not exactly played badly, but he has given away a couple of penalties and furthermore has not shown his prowess as an offensive header of the ball. I'm thinking, however, that in one of the next few games we will see him thump a header into the back of the opposition net and therefore begin a nice spree which should culminate in him - yes, him - being one of the higher-scoring LionsXII players (around five goals this campaign would be nice).

Top Game: LionsXII 3-1 Negeri Sembilan
That game was an example of what the boys are capable of if they gel properly. On display were three goals, several nice open and set plays, and a good solid defensive performance. Admittedly, Negeri Sembilan did not provide the sternest opposition that night, but the LionsXII still had to do their bit to win the game so convincingly.

Worst Game: LionsXII 1-2 Kelantan
The first half was good, except for the goal conceded near half-time to Kelantan forward Norshahrul Idlan Talaha. The second half was atrocious, largely due to the fact that most of the LionsXII players were nearly completely spent. However, that was the very first game of the season, and the LionsXII players' fitness levels have gone up since.

Top Eleven
(4-2-3-1) Izwan Mahbud; Juma'at Jantan, Baihakki Khaizan, Safuwan Baharudin, Shakir Hamzah; Hariss Harun, Shahdan Sulaiman; Yasir Hanapi, Shahril Ishak, Shaiful Esah; Sufian Anuar

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The latest 25-man WCQ squad

The Squad
Goalkeepers: Hassan Sunny, Izwan Mahbud, Hyrulnizam Juma'at, Joey Sim

Defenders: Baihakki Khaizan, Safuwan Baharudin, Shakir Hamzah, Daniel Bennett, Juma'at Jantan, Shaiful Esah, Delwinder Singh

Midfielders: Shi Jiayi, Firdaus Idros, Shahril Ishak, Shahdan Sulaiman, Isa Halim, Mustafic Fahrudin, Hariss Harun, Yasir Hanapi, Ruzaini Zainal

Forwards: Fazrul Nawaz, Patrick Paran, Qiu Li, Agu Casmir, Khairul Nizam

Surprise, surprise
Joey Sim - Really now, a fourth goalkeeper!? So now Lionel Lewis is fifth at best in the pecking order? Good lord. Oh, and, way to deprive the team of another possible outfield option; we totally need four goalkeepers.

Delwinder Singh - The Tanjong Pagar United defender has been a feature in the past few squads, but has just one cap of garbage minutes to show for it. Is he in there 'for the experience' or will he play? My guess is that he'll be understudying the likes of Safuwan, but with Raddy you are never sure.

Ruzaini Zainal - It must surprise the heck out of everyone (the player himself included) that Ruzaini - fourth-choice winger and, really, a bit-part player for SAFFC last season and this - gets a national team slot. Has Raddy noticed something that thousands of die-hard fans - fans who actually attend training sessions and league games - haven't?

Patrick Paran - I quite like the Tanjong Pagar forward's bustling style of play. However, the reality is that he scored all of two goals last term and is unlikely to be at the fore of Raddy's plans. Another player brought overseas 'for the experience'?

Agu Casmir - He may be goalless thus far this MSL season, but has put in a number of tireless, game-changing shifts and even has a bunch of assists to show for all his hard wo.. oh wait, that's Sufian Anuar. Oops.

In the wilderness
Lionel Lewis
- He's not injured and is still going strong for Home United. Additionally, he's one of the tallest around in a department that, if anything, lacks height. Furthermore, he's got over half a century of international caps to his name. Yet somehow he finds himself behind the LionsXII's second-choice goalkeeper and Balestier Khalsa's inexperienced custodian in the priority list.

Another right-back - Jeremy Chiang, Imran Sahib and Ismadi Mukhtar all had terrific campaigns last term; Jeremy did enough to earn a move to Home United, while Imran and Ismadi are just two of the few players to have been retained for this season by the champions Tampines Rovers. (Note: To all the haters, I am fully aware that Ismadi played at left wingback most of last season. However, he's right-footed and was Woodlands Wellington's right wingback anyway before moving to the Stags). God help the team if Juma'at Jantan succumbs to an injury.

Jamil Ali - "Coach, we've got a nippy attacker here. Very versatile. Can play any attacking position. Quick and good at dribbling." "F*** that, we've been coping without Khairul Amri anyway."

Sufian Anuar - See 'Agu Casmir'.

Any member of the YOG 2010 team - If players are making trips just to soak it all in, why not bring along the likes of Jeffrey Lightfoot or Dhukhilan Jeevamani? Start 'em young!

Given the limited resources at his disposal, Raddy has almost managed to pick the strongest squad available. However, as is always the case with the coach, a complete surprise is not far in the offing, at least where the starting eleven is concerned. The squad, if anything, lacks balance, as any squad with four goalkeepers will. The biggest areas of concern otherwise are right-back and left-wing; in the former position, only Juma'at Jantan is a natural right-back whereas in the latter position, only Qiu Li plays there with any success. Hopefully Raddy doesn't go about his usual business of sticking central players (such as Shi Jiayi, Shahdan Sulaiman or Shahril Ishak) wide if Qiu happens to be unavailable.

Possible starting eleven(s)
(4-2-3-1) Hassan Sunny; Juma'at Jantan, Safuwan Baharudin, Daniel Bennett, Shaiful Esah; Shi Jiayi, Hariss Harun; Firdaus Idros, Shahril Ishak, Qiu Li; Fazrul Nawaz

(4-4-2) Hassan Sunny; Juma'at Jantan, Safuwan Baharudin, Daniel Bennett, Shaiful Esah; Firdaus Idros, Shahril Ishak, Hariss Harun, Yasir Hanapi; Fazrul Nawaz, Qiu Li

(3-4-2-1) Hassan Sunny; Safuwan Baharudin, Daniel Bennett, Baihakki Khaizan; Juma'at Jantan, Hariss Harun, Mustafic Fahrudin, Shaiful Esah; Shahril Ishak, Qiu Li; Fazrul Nawaz