Saturday, July 30, 2011

Causeway Aftermath ST 29/7: : Never more proud - Poor refereeing and tough fouls did not faze Lions, says Avramovic

'That was the most important goal of my career. It was so sweet to score in front of the Malaysian fans.'

SHI JIAYI, Singapore's goal-scorer

Singapore players tossing coach Raddy Avramovic into the air after the drawn match, which sent the Lions through to the third round 6-4 on aggregate. -- PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
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Malaysia 1
Singapore 1
(Singapore win 6-4 on aggregate)

KUALA LUMPUR: Two Malaysian defenders, 85,000 fans at the Bukit Jalil Stadium, and millions more watching on television, had their eyes glued on Singapore midfielder Shi Jiayi.

The 27-year-old glided past his markers and, with the weight of a country on him, slotted the ball past goalkeeper Khairul Fahmie, ending any hopes Malaysia had of qualifying for the next stage of the World Cup.

As the sell-out crowd fell into stunned silence, the tense Singapore bench erupted.

'That,' an exuberant Shi said, 'was the most important goal of my career. We were all really nervous because we had a lot of chances to score but their goalkeeper was amazing until then.

'It was so sweet to score in front of the Malaysian fans.'

Shi's 73th-minute strike made sure that Singapore went through to the third round 6-4 on aggregate, and that any complaints about Malaysia's controversial opening goal yesterday were moot.

After a scuffle outside the penalty box in the 58th minute, Japanese referee Takayama Hiroyoshi raised his hands as if to signal for a free kick to the Lions.

The Singapore players halted.

But Malaysia winger S. Kunanlan did not stop playing, threading a pass through to striker Safee Sali.

The Tigers captain made no mistake as he put the ball past Singapore goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud to spark wild celebrations in the stands.

Another goal without reply for Malaysia in the remaining 32 minutes would have knocked Singapore out.

Lions coach Raddy Avramovic was so livid, he had to be restrained by his staff from going onto the field.

'It was really poor refereeing because he put the whistle to his mouth. I don't know if he blew or not but all our players stopped,' the Serb later said, his composure restored but the anger still simmering.

Another sore point for Singapore was the way Izwan was seemingly targeted by the Malaysians for some rough treatment.

'They whacked my head, ribcage and even my back whenever I jumped for a cross,' said the 20-year-old. 'But I kept my cool and took it as motivation to fight harder each time to stop them.'

In only his third international game, he pulled off some crucial saves, including a point-blank block to deny Malaysia's tricky winger Kunanlan in the opening minutes.

As Izwan walked gingerly to the dressing room after the final whistle, he was mobbed by his teammates, reward after a performance that Avramovic described as 'simply oustanding'.

Malaysia coach K. Rajagobal had a different view.

He felt that the Lions goalkeeper, along with several of his teammates, went down too easily to waste time.

Singapore captain Shahril Ishak was even steadily pushed off the pitch by Malaysia's Ahmad Fakri when he was substituted in the 78th minute.

'They disrupted our tempo and rhythm because of the injury stoppages every few minutes in the second half,' Rajagobal complained.

'To me, it wasn't a fair result; we deserved to win this game.'

Try telling that to the Singapore players, who came back out onto the field after the home fans had cleared out to applaud the 300-strong Lions supporters left in the stands.

Or to Avramovic, who was thrown into the air three times by his charges to kick off what was likely to be a long night of celebration.

'I've never been more proud of my players,' said the 61-year-old, as a rare smile made its way onto his face.

'They were real fighters for 180 minutes and did their country proud.

'Now, we all need a break.'


IMO, plenty of work to be done though. Yes they have redeemed themselves, they have got much of Singapore excited again. But can this last the course? Will Singaporeans desert the team again when they struggle against Asia's best?
Why Raddy not utilise his subs more? Is he lacking confidence in them? Are they not ready yet?
I thought we do have decent players on the bench as well.

But bottomline is, We need every Singaporeans' effort in moving Singapore football forward thats for sure.

Majulah Singapura!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Buildup to Causeway Derby: Shahril's free role (ST 21 Jul)

S'pore captain given licence to roam and harass Malaysia

'(It) has toughened me up because I get whacked and tackled many times during a game. I'm a smarter player now, knowing when to release the ball and how to deal with tight defences.'
SHAHRIL ISHAK on the benefits from his Indonesian stint

Midfielder Shahril Ishak (right), in action against Chinese Taipei on Monday, revelling in his new free role. -- ST PHOTO: NURIA LING

BARELY five months ago, Shahril Ishak feared that he had played his last game for Singapore.

His future with the Lions appeared to be in limbo after he joined the Medan Chiefs in the breakaway Indonesian Premier League (LPI), which was then not recognised by world football's governing body Fifa.

Fortunately, the 27-year-old playmaker received clearance from Fifa earlier this week, and is back in the national fold and raring to go for the crunch 2014 World Cup two-legged qualifier against Malaysia.

Said the former Home United player: 'I'm so relieved. I had given up all hope at one point.

'It was tough just training with the guys but not getting a chance to play out there with them.'

His return is a welcome one for Singapore as they prepare to face Asean champions Malaysia in the first leg at the Jalan Besar Stadium on Saturday night.

For he not only wears the captain's armband, but is also the Lions' midfield linchpin, embracing a new free role which coach Raddy Avramovic has entrusted to him.

Shahril said: 'I used to play left wing in the past, which was a bit tough as I didn't get the ball much.

'Now, I have the freedom to go wherever I want and create trouble for the opposition.'

He did just that in a 3-2 friendly win over Chinese Taipei on Monday, linking up well with fellow midfielders Shahdan Sulaiman and Shi Jiayi to create openings for themselves and front-man Aleksandar Duric.

He has revelled in a similar position for Medan, supplying more than half of league top scorer Laakkad Abdelhadi's 13 goals in 18 games.

Armed with a bag of tricks and a keen eye for threading through balls, Shahril has also benefited from Singapore's new, short-passing game in a 4-2-3-1 set-up.

But this playing style, he says, could come undone if the Tigers adopt an offside trap by pushing up their backline.

'We have to find a way around that, by timing our runs well to spring the trap,' he added. 'It's important to keep things simple - pass to the player in space and then find an opening to receive the ball back.'

Shahril believes his overseas playing experience puts him in good stead to thrive as the main creative spark.

'Playing in Indonesia has toughened me up because I get whacked and tackled many times during a game,' said Shahril, who also played for Persib Bandung in the Indonesia Super League last year.

'I'm a smarter player now, knowing when to release the ball and how to deal with tight defences.'

Skills aside, he also has a wealth of experience. With 83 international appearances since his debut against the Maldives in 2003, he is the second most-capped player in the squad, behind only Daniel Bennett (97).

Along with Shahdan and Shi, Shahril feels Singapore's hopes of victory against their Causeway neighbours will rest on their shoulders.

He said: 'Our main job is to supply and support Duric up front. If we do that well, we've got a great chance of beating Malaysia.'

By Sanjay Nair (ST)

Buildup to Causeway Derby: Mustafic's eye firmly on Safiq - ST (21 Jul)

By Lee Min Kok (ST)

THE unenviable task of stifling Malaysia's midfield will likely fall to a Lion who has filled the defensive role with distinction over the last five years.

And midfield enforcer Mustafic Fahrudin - back in Singapore after a two-year spell in the Indonesia Super League (ISL) - has warned that it is Tigers' captain Safiq Rahim whom his teammates will have to watch closely during Saturday's clash with their Causeway rivals.

He said: 'Safiq's free kicks are superb. If not for him scoring twice in the first round, we would have been playing Chinese Taipei, not Malaysia, this Saturday.

'We will try not to concede any free kicks around the penalty area, because he is deadly in those situations.'

Safiq, 24, scored from a free kick in both legs of the 2014 World Cup qualifier against the Taiwanese, ensuring that the Tigers scraped through on away goals (aggregate 4-4).

He also enhanced his reputation as a man for the big occasion, netting a superb curling effort from 20m against English giants Liverpool last Saturday.

Set-piece prowess aside, the Selangor man, who is just 1.67m-tall, is expected to provide the ammunition for star striker Safee Sali.

But Safiq is only one weapon in the Malaysians' midfield arsenal, pointed out the Serbia-born Mustafic.

'Their wing-men are very fast, very skilful and we will need to find a way to stop them. I will try my best to protect the back four,' he added.

Call him the midfield destroyer, water carrier or hatchetman - each name less glamorous than the last - for the Lions, but the 'Claude Makelele' role (named after the hard-tackling Frenchman) is one of the most under-rated in modern football.

Against Chinese Taipei on Monday, coach Raddy Avramovic deployed his former compatriot in his favoured position, giving fellow midfielders Hariss Harun and Shahdan Sulaiman the licence to roam forward.

But Mustafic, 30, whose wife recently gave birth to their second child, insists that nothing gives him more satisfaction than snapping at opponents' heels and launching into bone-crunching tackles.

'It (the role) suits me well, I feel comfortable playing there and best of all, it allows my teammates the freedom to attack,' he said.

Buildup to Causeway Derby on 23 Jul: Malaysia's Safee longs for 1st goal against Lions - ST (21Jul)

'Bennett is a very intelligent player and he reads the game well.'
SAFEE SALI, Malaysia striker, on being a marked man of the Singapore defender

HE HAS scored 13 goals in 29 games for Malaysia since his debut in 2006, but top striker Safee Sali has so far failed to find the net against bitter rivals Singapore in three friendly meetings.

And the 27-year-old, whose reputation is fast-growing within the region, is planning to erase this blot on his CV come Saturday, when the Tigers meet the Lions in the second round of the 2014 World Cup qualifiers - his first competitive outing against the Republic.

'Yes, I've scored against Singapore at the Under-23 level (in the Merdeka Cup in 2007), but never in a full international or a friendly,' Safee told The Straits Times in a phone interview yesterday.

'If I score on Saturday, good. It will be even better if we win.'

The stocky 1.70m forward will first need to overcome veteran centre-back Daniel Bennett, 33, who has vowed to give Safee a tough time.

But having netted a brace in Saturday's 3-6 friendly loss to English club Liverpool on his comeback from injury, the Pelita Jaya hitman is confident that he can get the better of the Singapore defence.

Said Safee: 'Bennett is a very intelligent player and he reads the game well. I'm getting close to my full fitness and that will be important.'

Safee, along with skipper and midfield general Safiq Rahim, can expect to be marked men when they face their long-time adversaries in front of a sell-out 6,000 crowd at the Jalan Besar Stadium.

But Safiq, a key threat for Malaysia with his deadly free kicks, is banking on his teammates to rise to the occasion.

Said the 24-year-old: 'Everybody has their own weaknesses and strengths, I'm sure the rest of the team will have something extra to give on Saturday.'

Tigers coach K. Rajagobal's young charges are due to arrive this morning and will have two days to get used to the artificial pitch at Jalan Besar.