National Team - Lionesses ● Aug 30, 2023
Interview with Singapore Women’s Head Coach Karim Bencherifa – Hangzhou Asian Games 2022
1. Can you provide insight into the criteria you used for selecting the players in the Singapore provisional squad for the 2022 Asian Games? What were the key attributes you were looking for?
The players in the provisional squad for the 2022 Asian Games have been selected after meetings and discussions with my backroom staff. We went through each individual’s performance and attitude both on and off the pitch, taking into account their respective technical, tactical, physical, and mental attributes such as focus, determination and adaptability to high-pressure situations which are required when playing strong opponents at the highest level of the continent. All this while taking into consideration the availability of players for Asian Games selection, including those who may have to miss out on this Games due to personal/overseas club commitments.
We also prioritised players who could contribute effectively to the team’s strategy and cohesion. This group has a mix of experience and youthful energy while ensuring the continuity we wanted to maintain from the previous tournament. In fact, we initially selected around 18 players out of those who played SEA Games, but unfortunately some were not available for the Asian Games tournament for different reasons (Long-term injury during the league matches, Study/Exams or personal). But it is important to note that the door of the National Team is and will always be open for deserving players whose performances merit them a call up.
2. The omission of some notable players from the squad has caught attention. Could you provide insights into the decision-making process behind these exclusions and how you believe this impacts the team’s dynamics?
In general, any decision to exclude a player is done in an objective manner and has always been based on a combination of form, tactical considerations, and team spirit dynamics. Also, these are always collective decisions, and the coaching staff might at times opt for players who best fit the team’s current strategy, cohesion, and objectives.
Saying that, we do understand that the omission of certain notable players from the squad may have garnered attention. For instance, Danelle Tan, who just recently started very well at Dortmund, and understandably had to focus on her club and will have to work hard to have a good start of the season with her new club. Putri Syaliza did well with us in the 2023 SEA Games and she was keen to be part of the Asian Games squad. I personally talked to her coach in USA where she is currently based and while he was agreeable to her participation, her university has informed me that she will have exams during the Asian Games. Yes football is important, but we also need to understand that academics also play a part in the longer term objective we have for our promising players. Our striker Nur Izzati has also informed us that she is unavailable for the Games, which is unfortunate, but we respect her decision. All these players are high-quality players, and they have long, bright futures ahead of them. Of course we want to have our best possible squad which is why we called them up hence it is unfortunate that they are unavailable for the reasons stated, but they are our future and I am sure they will feature for us in other competitions in the horizon.
Our primary focus now remains on building a cohesive team that is united and prepared for the challenges of the Asian Games. We are confident that the players who are part of the squad share our collective goal and are dedicated to giving their best for the team’s success.
3. Rebuilding the team post the 2023 South East Asian Games seems to have been your main focus. Could you elaborate on the strategies and steps you’ve taken to initiate this rebuilding phase and infuse fresh energy into the team?
The post-SEA Games rebuilding phase has involved scouting young talents from the U16 and U19 National Teams. I personally took some training sessions with them, and they have recently played the AFF tournament in Indonesia under the guidance of assistant coach Fazrul Nawaz. This has allowed me to keep a close eye on this group, I also very frequently watched the weekend WPL and WNL games as a means of and scouting for new deserving players that would benefit from having the opportunity to gain experience at the international level. Also, while in the process of assessing whether young players (aged 14 to 16) can play in the WPL, it gave me the opportunity to watch many clubs training.
Rebuilding after the 2023 SEA Games might involve international matches such as the friendly where we won against Pakistan. Younger players will pick up valuable experience on the international stage, which in turn contributes to their growth and the team’s future strength. As an indication, in that game (against Pakistan), four young players had their first cap with the National Senior team: two 17 years old and the player who provided the assist and scorer, are both 19 years old. The future of Singapore Women football looks bright, and with the continued investment of the FAS in the women’s game, I am sure we can only get better for as long as we trust the process and keep faith.
4. The 2022 Asian Games mark the first-ever appearance of the Singapore National Women’s Team at this level of competition. What were the primary challenges you faced in preparing a relatively mix team of young and experienced players for such a high-stakes tournament?
Preparing such a team for a competition like the Asian Games involves intensive training, tactical education, and creating a supportive team environment. Let’s not forget we will be playing one of the top teams in the world; North Korea was once a top 10 ranked team, while Cambodia showed lot of progress recently. The challenges we face could include managing nerves, maintaining focus, and adapting to the pace and intensity of international matches.
This group of players have shown lot of quality and character in training and games we played (locally versus boys’ team and internationally the victory versus Pakistan). Also, since we took charge of the team, both me and my backroom staff, have been analysing various aspects of the team’s performances: there have been less defeats, our goal scoring ability has improved to an average of 1 goal per match, we have a good defensive record in the last three international matches seeing as how we didn’t concede from open play and only conceded two goals (one was a penalty vs Cambodia and the other was a free kick in our win vs Laos). But of course, there is still lot of work to be done and much room for the team to improve.
5. The players you’ve selected for the provisional squad come from various backgrounds and levels of experience. How have you fostered team cohesion and unity despite these differences, particularly considering the significance of their debut at the Asian Games?
In the squad list there are about six very experienced players, including our captains Siti Rosnani and Stephanie who, besides their responsibility as players, they also play the role of exemplary leaders to provide guidance to the many youngsters we have in the squad. Building team cohesion often requires team-building activities, effective communication, and cultivating a shared sense of purpose. Emphasising the significance of their debut at the Asian Games could motivate players to work together toward a common goal.
By having centralised training, it will provide us with the opportunity to implement team-building activities to foster unity among players coming from diverse backgrounds. We will have regular communication, shared goals, and create a supportive environment where players can express themselves and learn from one another which ultimately could contribute to cohesive team dynamics.
6. Developing a competitive squad involves balancing the present and the future. How have you managed this balance when selecting players, considering both short-term milestones at the Asian Games and the long-term growth of the team?
We are trying to find a balance between the two: short-term success by selecting players with the skills needed for the Asian Games, while also considering the long-term growth of the team by including promising young talents.
Balancing short-term success with long-term growth involves strategic planning. We have chosen a mix of experienced players who can contribute immediately and younger talents with potential for future success. This approach ensures competitiveness in the present while simultaneously nurturing the next generation of players. In fact, we have young players training with us who may not feature in the coming Asian Games but will be important players for the 2025 SEA Games. As I have said the press conference after last game of SEA Games vs Laos that the preparation starts now for next SEA Games in 2025.
7. The Lionesses have impressed with their attitude and performances latterly. What would be your own expectations and goals for the team’s performance in the tournament?
My expectations would be for my players to be competitive, demonstrate their abilities and capabilities on an international stage, and to learn from the experience. We would like to be able to show that the team has been making progress in their development and most importantly the players must represent Singapore with pride. One of our goals also is to try to achieve a historic performance by advancing to the next stage, however this will need a lot of effort, dedication and hopefully some good fortune.
8. In a tournament like the Asian Games, adaptability is crucial. How have you worked on enhancing the team’s tactical flexibility and readiness to adjust to different opponents and game situations?
Enhancing tactical flexibility involves preparing the team to adapt to various game scenarios. This can be achieved through training sessions that focus on different formations, strategies, and practicing response to different opponents.
We also would require in-depth analysis of opponents, practising different formations, and preparing strategies for varying match scenarios. The coaching staff will be working on teaching players to adapt quickly during matches and make tactical adjustments. We will also have about four practice games with different objectives against U14 and U15 boy’s teams. During these games, one of the focus areas will be to improve our ability to defend when facing a strong opponent. This in turn will enable us to work on our ability to press opponents and adapt to the physical challenges of stronger and faster opponents (U15 Boys). The other area that we will look to spend more time on are increasing the amount of possession with the ball and work on our attacking build-up strategies (U14 boys). The last game on the 16 September a few days before we fly off will be a good opportunity to gain confidence in ourselves and have self-belief.
9. As the head coach, your role extends beyond tactical decisions. How have you prepared the players mentally for the pressure and intensity that come with participating in their first Asian Games?
Having mental fortitude is vital for any athlete competing at the highest level as it determines how they respond to a setback or a loss. Techniques like visualisation, mindfulness, and goal setting are important and need to be inculcated as early as possible as this is a long-term process, and its success is based on each individual personality and character.
During training, my staff and I will look to recreate similar scenarios of high-level games which would test the players in terms of their ability of problem-solving during intense situations and at times motivate or push the players to excel and do well while maintaining composure during such high-pressure moments.
10. The Asian Games provide a unique platform for international exposure. How do you believe this experience will contribute to the overall growth and development of women’s football in Singapore, regardless of the tournament outcome?
Participating in the Asian Games offers valuable exposure to international competition. Regardless of the outcome, the experience gained will help raise the profile of women’s football in Singapore. It inspires young players to aspire to reach similar heights, attracts attention to the sport, and potentially leads to increased investment in women’s football development at various levels.
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