National Team - Lions ● Jun 08, 2023
Interview with Singapore Head Coach Takayuki Nishigaya – June 2023 FIFA International Window
National Team Head Coach, Takayuki Nishigaya (TN)
National Team Manager, Eric Ong (EO)
We have a few new faces in the squad. What do they bring to the team and what are your expectations for them?
TN: Jordan (Vestering) has come back from injury and he’s finally getting a run of games in the SPL where he is able to show his qualities and potential. He has good physical attributes and is a left footer and will give us good options in the fullback position. He needs to gain international experience and with that, I would like to see him continue to improve.
We have been keeping track of Naqiuddin for some time and he was very close to a call-up in our previous squads. He has good speed, dribbling ability and is versatile to play on both flanks, and we are looking forward to having him join us to showcase his talent.
Hairul comes in together with Zharfan to provide our keepers with greater competition for their places in the National Team. Both of them have been playing regularly and consistently for their clubs in the SPL this season and they deserve this opportunity.
Harhys and Fathullah have shown qualities to be future National Team players. They have shown this in their performances in the SPL as well as for our National U22 team but it’s another big step up to senior international football. They will benefit from the experience of being in the national team environment and be exposed to what is required and expected of them if they want to cement their place in the team. This can only augur well in their development as players.
What are the updates regarding injuries among our National Team players?
EO: Unfortunately, since the last window, we have lost Amirul (Haikal) and Huzaifah (Aziz) through ACL injuries. They have since had successful surgeries and we are working closely with them and their clubs on their rehab journeys. We will continue to monitor their progress, but given the nature of their injuries, it will be some time before we see them on the pitch. Both are mentally strong, and I am sure this would only be a temporary setback for them before they get back to full fitness.
Ilhan (Fandi) is making very good progress from his own ACL surgery in January. He is now doing pitch work and will be heading back to Belgium soon for the start of pre-season with his club.
We’ve been working with Shahdan (Sulaiman) on his rehab from his ankle surgery since January and we’re very happy with his progress. He’s already doing a lot of work on the pitch and is very close to returning to full contact training with his club.
Ikhsan (Fandi)’s progress, while not as smooth as we had expected, is obviously a concern for us. He was back with his club for most of the last two months and is now rehabbing with us during the off-season and is targeting to be fully fit for the start of the 2023-24 season with his club.
Irfan (Fandi) has had an injury-interrupted second half of the season for his club and is currently out with a PCL (Posterior Cruciate Ligament) strain. He is currently doing rehab with our National Team medical team and is targeting to return to full training at the start of pre-season with his club.
That said, we are pleased to welcome back a couple of players from injuries, especially Adam (Swandi) who missed the AFF Mitsubishi Electric Cup and has worked very hard to return to full fitness.
We have not called up any of our overseas-based players. What is the thinking behind that?
TN: All three players (Jacob Mahler, Song Uiyoung and Ryhan Stewart) recently joined new clubs, and for the first two, in a new country.
I feel that it is important for them to settle into their new clubs and new environments, and to establish and build up a strong base through a full pre-season.
Jacob only recently returned from a serious long-term injury while Song has played very little in the last two months with his previous club (in Thailand) due to injuries. In particular for Song, my wish is that he stays injury-free and will be able to play consistently in his new club and showcase his full qualities on the pitch.
Ryhan is making a step up to the top division (in Thailand) with his new club and I want him to challenge himself to fight for a regular place in the starting eleven in the coming season. His last match was at the end of April before the end of the season and being in off-season now, I felt that it would benefit him more to be conditioned during his pre-season with this new club and get off to a good start with them.
I’m fully aware of the qualities of these three players and they are very important players for our National Team. I look forward to having them with us as soon as the next international window (September 2023) when we build up towards the World Cup Qualification playoffs in October.
How did these two matches (against Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands) come about?
EO: We plan ahead as far as possible for international windows which are open for us to arrange for international friendlies. We reached out to potential opponents and at the same time got approached by others for matches away from home. Plans are already in place for our September window, with the matches to be announced shortly upon the completion of the June window.
The first priority for us this June was to play at home as we have not hosted an ‘A’ International at the Home of the Lions since March 2022. We had several options and invitations from other countries to play away, but it is important, especially with the tight calendar we have domestically and internationally, that we play at home in this window.
Both these opponents are from a different confederation and very rarely, an opportunity in the calendar aligns so we were pleased to secure these matches back in April.
We played the Solomon Islands in 2019 and last year, we hosted the Papua New Guinea Women’s National Team, so we have a good relationship and contact with both federations. They are also preparing for the new cycle of World Cup Qualification in the Oceania Confederation which for the first time will offer one direct spot in the 2026 World Cup Finals on top of a spot in the Inter-Confederation playoffs.
What kind of challenge can we expect in these matches?
TN: We have seen videos of both teams and we can expect a physical challenge from them. Their players have individual power and speed, and we will need to be prepared to counter that. It is always good for our team to be exposed to different styles of play and these two opponents will offer us a good test.
What is our objective for this window?
TN: In March, we called up several players for the first time and gave them exposure and experience of international football. The two matches (in March) showed that there are no easy games at international level and my challenge to the players was to improve daily and to put in a consistent level of performance back in the SPL to fight for their places in the National Team. We need to have strong competition for places in the National Team as that is one way for us to improve.
I’ve left out a few players from the last squad, but my message is very clear to them: you are still part of my consideration and in my plans. The door to the National Team is always open but it’s up to you to perform and show that you deserve to be in the squad and to play. My coaches and I are watching every game, including our players in the U22 team and we have high expectations on what is required to be a National Team player. At the end of the day, the best players, with the right attitude on and off the pitch, will be in our National Team.
This June window also gives me the opportunity to see up close some new faces in the national team environment, and hence I have also called up the five new debutantes. This can only be good for the future of the national team in the long run.
Next week in training and in these two games, we need to step up another level from March and for the team to understand our concepts and put them into practice. We are also playing at home in front of our loyal supporters and it’s important for us to put on a good performance for them.
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