National Team - Lions ● Sep 10, 2018
Preview: Changes to be rung for Singapore against Fiji, says Fandi
SINGAPORE, 10 SEPTEMBER 2018 – The Lions take on Fiji in the second and final game of this international window and Fandi Ahmad’s men will look to get their first victory under him at Bishan Stadium on Tuesday evening, 11 September with kick-off at 7.30pm. Tickets are available at fas.org.sg/tickets!
Background Fiji are set to present another physical test for the Lions, following their 1-1 draw against Mauritius last Friday.
“We wanted to play this game because of the physicality,” Fandi said at the pre-match press conference today afternoon at Oasia Hotel. “We saw from the videos (of their past games) that they are very hard to break down; Malaysia only beat them 1-0 (in a friendly in March).
“We’ve been studying them because of their compactness, their transition in defence; they are quite solid. We need some smart players in the team to open them up and to also just be aware of their counter-attacks.”
Fandi was happy enough with what he saw against the Mauritians and confirmed he will change things up against the 165th-ranked Fijians, with “at least four to five” new players in line to start the match.
“We’ve seen enough of some players and we hope to give others a chance,” the 56-year-old said. “Some senior players who didn’t play (against Mauritius) will start, but the result is important (as well)… Everyone must know their role and they must play for the team.”
Goalkeeper Hassan Sunny, who came on as a substitute, agreed: “If we don’t play, we just need to give our full support to whoever is playing. It’s a team game and we understand this from the very first day we are involved; as long as the team wins, that’s something we are happy about.”
Fiji Head Coach Christophe Gamel is not underestimating the strength of the Lions, whom he believes should have won against Mauritius.
“We expect big pressure from the Singapore team,” the Frenchman said. “They are a technical team who like to manage the ball and we expect a very tough game… The way they play is more advanced, they are all professionals and even have overseas-based players. We know we will struggle at some point but we are here to give our best in this tough game and of course, we will try to win.”
The 46-year-old also revealed that such friendlies help him in his quest to take Fijian football to a higher level, having been tasked to lead the National Team since the start of 2017.
“It’s a young generation (I am trying to bring through and) I want to give them good feedback against a technical team (like Singapore),” the former Paris Saint-Germain Women’s Team Assistant Coach said. “That is important for the (preparation for the) 2019 Pacific Games and 2020 (Oceania Nations Cup). I need to know which point I can push this new generation… (by) playing against professional players. Also, it’s important because I think some of them have good (enough) quality to be professional.”
Fiji Captain Roy Krishna (above, right), one of two professional players in the visitors’ side, is looking forward to the match.
“We are excited,” the Wellington Phoenix attacker said. “We played a few days ago in Fiji (1-1 draw against Solomon Islands) and the coaches made a point that we started well, but there was a key time (where) we didn’t focus. We need to play the full 90 minutes, we need to be switched on (as) we know they have quality players.”
Victory will be Singapore’s first under Fandi and their second of this year after a 3-2 win against the Maldives in March.
Team News Hougang United FC forward Iqbal Hussain was withdrawn from the team this morning due to injury, with his place taken by Young Lions attacker Haiqal Pashia, who joins the Suzliman brothers and Jacob Mahler as first-time call-ups.
The Bula Boys have brought 20 players to Singapore, including Stoke City centre-back Scott Wara, the other professional player in the side apart from Krishna. You can read more about the 18-year-old in our Opponent Spotlight.
Fiji’s form The away side are looking for their first victory in 2018, having started with 3-2 and 1-0 losses to the Philippines and Malaysia respectively. Krishna’s penalty salvaged a 1-1 draw against the Solomon Islands five days ago. They ended 2017 on a four-game unbeaten streak, drawing 0-0 and 1-1 against the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, before beating Tonga and New Caledonia 4-0 and 4-1 respectively.
Past meetings This will be the first time both teams are facing off.
Keep an eye out for… With Fandi’s assertions that new players will be given their chances, it seems likely that Hami Syahin, Jacob Mahler and Haiqal Pashia will get their first cap at some point. Mahler in particular is highly-rated and the 18-year-old has enjoyed a meteoric rise, having only made his professional debut in July. The midfielder has a good physique and is composed on the ball, while he can also double up as a centre-back.
Balestier Khalsa FC stalwart Zaiful Nizam should also get the opportunity to add to his only cap, which came in June 2015, with fellow goalkeepers Hassan (above, right) and Izwan Mahbud having already featured against Mauritius.
Krishna is the star man for Fiji and will have to be closely watched, while Wara will add a touch of English class if he takes to the field. Forward Saula Waqa, 22, could be a potential game-changer, having already scored eight times in ten international games.
What else they said… Fandi is delighted with the “positivity” of the players’ attitudes, which has also been remarked upon by Captain Hariss Harun.
“Everyone is eager and wanting to play,” he said. “I can see the senior players talking to the younger ones, like Bai(hakki Khaizan) to Zul(qarnaen), Shahril (Ishak) also talking a lot… in training as well, there’s a lot of encouragement and the bonding is better now.
“Everybody seems on their feet to get a position in the team, which is healthy competition… we are very happy to give a chance to youngsters.”
Hassan added: “As seniors, we just need to guide them; when you see something that is not right, it’s our duty and job to tell them, especially in terms of positioning from the back. It’s not difficult to tell them and they are very open, so communication is very easy. That makes Fandi’s job easier.”
Fandi was also happy with the way the Lions moved forward against Mauritius, citing the “good combination play” and “hard running”, as well as the ability and maturity to keep possession even under intense pressure from the opposition. However, there is also “a lot more to work on” in terms of defending and set-pieces.
“Certain things we (were) not (very) happy with is that we watch the ball a lot (and were unaware of) the third man running in, which we need to track and iron out,” he said. “We have to take advantage of corners and free-kicks (too); the transition from defence to attack, we need to be more focused… We need to tighten our midfield and defence, and be more compact.”
Fandi also spoke briefly about Safuwan Baharudin (above), who was deployed at central defence against Mauritius, having mostly played in midfield in the past few years. The 26-year-old gave an assured display and Fandi confirmed that the Pahang FA star will stay at the back.
“We are happy Safuwan agreed to play in his best position,” he said. “We talked to him about it. (Noh) Alam Shah and Eric (Ong) went up to speak to him (in Kuantan).
“When I came back (to take the National Team), I spoke to him also and told him this is his best position (centre-back) and he will always be man of the match if he plays there.
“We don’t need to see him as a midfielder or a striker because he knows what is best for him because he came up to me (after the Mauritius game) and told me that this is his best position to play.
“I think with him there (at centre-back), we have solved the problem at the back. He is reliable and hopefully he can continue to perform there like he did in the last game.”
Follow the game The match will be streamed live on fas.org.sg/live1!