No time for awe: Singapore Selection put through their paces at National Stadium

The grand architecture of the new National Stadium should be admired, but it is the Singapore Selection players who will be the first to write football history there as Gary Koh observes their training session at the rebuilt Grand Old Lady.

Seasoned as they were, however numerous big-scale occasions they had been exposed to, the sheer sight of a brand-new arena still left veterans and rookies in awe.

Even as the Singapore Selection players emerged from the comforts of their new home dressing room and sauntered towards the comfortable seats on the bench, they were quickly roused from their reverie by a sharp bark from head coach Bernd Stange.

Newcomers to the new National Stadium turf, the players got down to business with warm up drills under the watchful gaze of physical fitness trainer Aleksandar Bozenko, one of the handful of personnel from the home side that had experienced the old Kallang Roar before the Grand Old Lady was demolished and rebuilt.

Muscles stretched and minds refocused after the warm-up, the players were split into two groups.

The LionsXII players (sans Izwan Mahbud and Afiq Yunos) and Johor Darul Ta’zim I midfielder Hariss Harun, who saw some action in Wednesday’s Malaysia Cup fixture, were shepherded away by Bozenko, assistant coaches Harald Irmscher and Fandi Ahmad for the post-match recovery session.

With national skipper Shahril Ishak and striker Khairul Amri the only absentees for the Selection’s first training session, the rest of the group got down to business as they were drilled by their German taskmaster.

If any of them were looking forward to a light session on the ball, Stange’s booming voice was evidence that he was taking this first session seriously. Every slightest slip on a cross-field pass or run was remarked upon loudly.

From Sirina Camara and Shaiful Esah down the left, to Al-Qaasimy Rahman and Shahdan Sulaiman at the other wing, there was no evading Stange's watchful gaze. No sloppy running, crossing or finishing was tolerated by the stern-looking German.

The coach knows any sloppiness in their play on Saturday evening could see their world-class opponents ruin their first football show on home soil.

From the cross-and-finish exercise, it was down to a 4-versus-4 drill as the back four of Shaiful, Camara, Afiq and Al-Qaasimy were put through their paces under the instruction of former defender Aide Iskandar.

While this will not likely be the Singapore Selection's starting defence to tackle Carlos Tevez and company, the implicit understanding and awareness of their respective roles should they be called upon can never be underestimated.

Meanwhile Stange and assistant coach Alex Weaver (the head coach of Warriors FC) were in deep discussion in the middle of the pitch, plotting to spoil what has been an otherwise-winning Asia-Pacific tour for the Bianconeri in their third and final stop in Singapore.

With their esteemed Italian visitors still on their way for what would be a closed-door two-hour training session, there was still enough time for the locals to soak in the fine architecture of the new grand dome.

For the Singapore Selection, only a credible performance in the new turf will do. However familiar Tevez, Evra, Buffon and Pirlo are to football fans, names such as Hariss, Shahdan and Quak will be the ones to eke out new stories in this National Stadium.

Photos: Sim Weijie