National Team - Lionesses ● Mar 02, 2018

Lionesses Hungry to Keep Improving Under Bala

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The Singapore Women’s National Team head coach spoke to FAS ahead of their international friendly with Maldives about the team’s progress since his appointment

Passion, determination and hunger.

These are the attributes that have impressed K. Balagumaran since he took charge as head coach of the Singapore Women’s National Team last April.

The experienced 53-year-old, who last helmed S.League side Hougang United, has seen the team play eight games and is in the midst of final preparations for an international friendly against Maldives next Monday, 5th March.

Of the 23 Lionesses called up for the match at the Singapore Sports Hub, six are working adults while the rest are students, but the tough juggling act does not deter them.

“They train three times weekly from 7 to 9.30pm., then they go back and have school or work the next day,” said Bala, as he’s more commonly known.

“This is in addition to their own club training. For example, the Warriors FC players train twice a week, so that’s five times a week for them.

“The commitment level is very high (simply because) they really want to play…They are playing for the passion of the game, that’s what I’ve seen.”

While Bala has a pool of players to choose from is around 32, not all are able to attend every training session – held at Serangoon Stadium – due to school and work commitments.

“I told them to come at least twice a week and most are okay with that,” he said. “If they can come thrice, they will.

“I hope the base (number) can grow so even if some of them cannot come, we still have a minimum of 18 players for every session.”

Women’s National Team Captain Izyani Noorghani

RELISHING CHALLENGE

While he has extensive coaching experience, this is Bala’s first foray into the women’s game and he is enjoying his new role.

His main priority now to improve the players’ technical ability as most of them have never come through the youth development stages, while also adhering to the philosophy – implemented by Technical Director Michel Sablon – of building up play from the back.

“Most of them started at secondary school, polytechnic and some even at university,” he noted.

“What I have seen so far is that they are very receptive and willing to learn; they want to know concepts in more detail and they are hungry for knowledge.”

He is assisted by Chen Caiying and Shida Shariff, the head and assistant coaches for the Under-19 team respectively, and praised their eagerness to learn as well.

Bala has seen the team, ranked 89th in the world, improve game by game – their last international match saw them beat 73rd-ranked Guam 3-0, though he noted that their opponents fielded a young side.

Thailand, who made their World Cup debut in 2015, are the kingpins in South-east Asia along with Vietnam and Bala knows the Lionesses are far away from matching them.

But he believes that if the current side can be kept together and continue to work hard over the next few years, they will be able to overcome the likes of Malaysia, Philippines and Myanmar. Already, Bala has had feedback from opponents during last April’s Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Asian Cup Qualifiers that Singapore has improved.

Nur Afiqah Omar

BUILDING FOR FUTURE

It helps that there are more age-group squads and youth development programmes in place now, while coaching standards are being progressively raised.

“In addition to the national U-14, U-16, U-19 and senior teams, there is a U-12 development squad,” noted Ms. Julie Teo, FAS General Manager of Grassroots and Women’s Football.

“Since 2015, we have re-built women’s football – currently, we have a sound structure in place, from grassroots to schools’ competitions (primary to junior college level), tertiary level to domestic leagues and national teams.”

Bala is aiming to mould a young team for the future as they gear up for future competitions – the Maldives match is part of preparations for the Asean Football Federation (AFF) Women’s Championship this June. Longer-term, the team wants to participate at the 2019 South-east Asian (SEA) Games.

To that end, 12 new players have been called up to the latest squad, which has an average age of 22. Five players have been talent-scouted from the last Institute-Varsity-Polytechnic (IVP) Games, while eight are below 20 – including one 14 and two 15-year-olds.

“There are some very talented U-16 players and I‚Äôve also called up three girls from the U-19s,” Bala said.

“Nur Afiqah (Binte Omar), a 16-year-old midfielder, is somebody to look out for as she has huge potential.”

Playing at the National Stadium will be a new experience for many of the players and spur them on to do well, said Ms. Teo.

“They will be honoured to play there as the venue is iconic and there will be a sense of pride,” she said. “We hope the fans will come down to support the team and roar them on to do well.”