A Geylang combination for the National Team?

There's definitely local talent in the S.League, as Deepan Raj takes a look at two Geylang International players that might give national coach Bernd Stange some food for thought.

A standout story of the on-going Starhub League Cup competition so far has been Geylang International’s progress to the semi-final, although the Eagles were eventually knocked out in the cruelest manner possible - in the penalty russian roulette against Brunei DPMM.  The semi-final clash with the current league leaders had ended in a 0-0 draw, which meant Geylang had remained unbeaten in 390 minutes of action against four teams currently parked in the top five positions in the S.League table.

The run had included a satisfying win over eastern rivals Tampines Rovers, a 4-0 romp over Warriors FC and a well-deserved 3-1 victory over Japanese outfit, Albirex Niigata(S). The reason for Geylang's ascendancy has not been hard to pinpoint.

In the first match of the League Cup, Geylang head coach Jorg Steinebrunner sprang a surprise, fielding winger Ridhuan Muhammad in the right back position instead of the captain's usual spot on the flank  and moving striker Hafiz Nor into the right wing vacancy.

It was a canny ploy that worked to perfection.

Ridhuan and Hafiz produced stellar performances to not only keep Jamil Ali and Imran Sahib quiet on the left flank, but also crafted numerous attacking opportunities with nifty interchanging plays.

The duo once again worked a treat against Albirex Niigata(S) in the quarter finals - a match that Hafiz dominated with a man of the match display. The speedy winger rounded off his performance with a sublime 30 yard strike that left the watching Geylang faithful purring with unadulterated glee.

Geylang captain Muhammad Ridhuan's experience and versatility has proved invaluable to his team. Photo: Weixiang Lim

Player Details

Name: Muhammad Ridhuan

Age: 30

Club: Geylang International

Former Clubs: Young Lions, Tampines Rovers, Arema Cronous, Putra Samarinda

National Caps/Goals: 65/3

Speaking to FourFourTwo, Steinebrunner explained the rationale behind his decision: “We looked at Tampines Rovers and saw that they were a threat from the left flank with speedy players like Ismadi Mukhthar, Imran Sahib and Jozef Kaplan. I decided to put Ridhuan there because I knew he could combat them with his speed.”

The Geylang coach was not done.

“The national coach should definitely be looking at them. Their combination will be a threat to any defence at the moment," he said.

“With Hafiz’s speed as well, I felt that we could create two on one situations and hit them on the attack and I am happy to see that the decision has worked well. “

With current national team head coach Bernd Stange searching for a speedy wing back, Ridhuan is an option that the German should seriously consider.

“Wing-backs who are not fast and strong will not play in my team. I choose only players who are able to overlap, coming from behind, with 10-15 sprints per game, and to give the final pass,” he had said in an interview with The New Paper.

With Hafiz and Ridhuan currently in scintillating form as a tandem, the onus is now on Bernd Stange to call up the previously capped players.

Playing as a full-back is not something new to Ridhuan. The winger, who has plied his trade in the Indonesian league previously was first drafted into the Singapore National team under former coach Raddy Avramovic as a right back.

LionsXII’s Faritz Hameed, 24 and Courts Young Lions’ Al Qaasimy, 22 were the only right backs named in the training squad that departed for Austria. Although Ridhuan might not possess the exuberance that comes with having younger legs, the 30-year-old has invaluable international experience having starred in the 2004 and 2007 Tiger Cup (now known as AFF Suzuki Cup) triumphs.

Hafiz Nor's energetic display has caught many eyes during Geylang's League Cup run. Photo: Weixiang Lim

Player Details

Name: Hafiz Nor

Age: 25

Club: Geylang International

Former Clubs: Home United, Tanjong Pagar United

National Caps/Goals: 1/0

The Geylang captain was confident of his abilities as a full back when speaking to FourFourTwo earlier this week.

“I started my national team career at this position so I can play it with confidence,” he said. “Playing with Hafiz on the right is great because he someone easy to play with and an important thing is it keeps the left back pegged back since Hafiz can destroy them with his speed.”

Meanwhile, Hafiz earnt a call-up in Stange’s first national team squad, making his international debut in the 5-2 victory over Laos only last June.

For both players, a chance to don the national jersey again would be an opportunity they would glady grab with both hands.

“I will continue to give my best to the club and hopefully get the call-up if I deserve it,” Hafiz said. “I hope the national coach was informed of how we performed and we will continue to work hard.”

Ridhuan, 30 and Hafiz, 25 may not be exactly what Stange deems as “young players” but if their League Cup performances are anything to go by, then the German may want to re-visit his selection process and give Ridhuan and Hafiz a chance to convert their club form on to the international scene as he returns from Austria.

A right wing Geylang odyssey for the National team could well be on its way to fulfilment. But the ball is now in Stange's court, and only time will tell if he chooses to extend an national team recall to the on-form Eagles pair.