With the pivotal game against Indonesia Under-23s looming, FFT's Gary Koh identifies key areas that could decide Thursday's battle at Jalan Besar Stadium.
It's do-or-die now as Singapore's young guns take on Indonesia's Under-23s in a direct battle to progress from Group A to the semi-finals of the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games. Here, FourFourTwo identifies five ways the hosts can horde all the glory for themselves by maximising their strengths and minimising those of their opponents.
Pick the right passes to pierce Indonesia's rearguard
Indonesia might recently have kept a clean sheet against mighty Cambodia, but their defence is still their most vulnerable aspect. Singapore can exploit the young Garudas’ emphasis on attacking by piercing their defence with neat, short through-balls as Myanmar had shown on Day 5.
In Singapore’s midfield ranks are Safirul Sulaiman, Adam Swandi and Shamil Sharif – players gifted with the vision and ability to unlock a shaky back-four with passes straight through the centre.
Score first, win afterwards
Almost every time the Young Lions open the scoring, they go on to win the match. The psychological boost gained from going in front has been invaluable, even if they then endure a couple of scares along the route to victory.
Should they seize the initiative again, chances of securing the coveted ticket to playing in the semis at the Sports Hub will be boosted immeasurably. With Singapore scoring all their goals this tournament late in each half to date, Thursday’s crucial Group B clash will be the perfect time for a welcome change.
Keep things even tighter at the back
The defence has performed decently so far, conceding only three goals in as many games. The issue here about the goals conceded is that they have all come from poor defending at set-plays. Myanmar promptly exploited those weaknesses to hand the Young Lions their only defeat yet in the SEA Games.
Part of the problem lies with the Young Lions conceding too many free-kicks in their own half. By reducing their tendency to give up ground starting against Indonesia, the less likely they are to cede a goal resulting from a set-play. Easing up on fouls to avoid picking up bookings and suspensions will also be crucial for semi-final hopes, though only a fully competitive display in their final group game will see them get there.
Focus, aim, fire
Before his goal against Cambodia’s Under-23s, Sahil Suhaimi had spent 269 minutes huffing, puffing and shooting on goal – without success. Not that things took a turn for the better after he broke his SEA Games duck, the forward enduring criticism after Singapore fans took offense at his goal celebration.
But a clinical display now can vindicate his response. And the Lions XII star knows a bit about performing in big games, following his two-goal showing in his club’s Malaysian FA Cup final win over Kelantan FA. A performance of that magnitude is exactly what’s required of him against Indonesia, and go down long in the annals of Singaporean football if he manages it.
Choose the right words to fire up the players for the occasion
Approaching the match that could define his reign in charge of the Young Lions, how Aide Iskandar chooses his words before the match and during half time against Indonesia will be pivotal to the result.
The coach has worked hard to create an atmosphere of stability in the dressing room, and that will be more crucial than ever now if the occasion on Thursday is not to overwhelm his young players. Imparting clearly that the Indonesians are to be respected, but not feared, would set his fledgling charges out in the right frame of mind.
Whether Aide Iskandar chooses to channel Alf Ramsy, Winston Churchill, Lee Kuan Yew, or any random abang-adek addressing his boys is his choice, but if the right message is absorbed then the battle could already be decided.
Main image: Stefanus Ian/FourFourTwo