Hougang United head coach Salim Moin believes that new signings Francisco Salvador Ela and Takahashi Manato can forge a lethal strike partnership.
A large part of Hougang’s success last term was down to their prolific Brazilian forward duo of Diego Gama and Geison Moura, who contributed 31 out of the 49 goals they scored in the league.
Diego Gama has since signed for Indonesian side Pusamania Borneo FC while Geison Moura is reportedly on trial at Brunei DPMM.
In their absence, Hougang have signed Equatorial Guinea-born Spanish forward Ela and Japanese attacker Manato for this upcoming 2015 S.League season.
Playing against a Singapore Pre-Olympic Selection Team in a pre-season friendly at the Hougang Stadium last night, the duo showed glimpses of their abilities as they scored one apiece in the second half to help the Cheetahs to a neat 2-0 victory.
Ela, more commonly known as ‘Chupe’, lashed home from close range on 58 minutes after the Cubs had failed to dealt with a corner, while Manato found the net from a left-footed shot from a tight angle 16 minutes from time after being set up by compatriot Shunsuke Nakatake.
Speaking to FourFourTwo after the game, coach Salim expressed optimism that the new-look strikeforce would take off when the new season kicks off in March.
“I’m very happy with how they performed,” he said.
“They’re not only scoring goals, but they’re also creating space to allow goalscoring opportunities.
“Each of them has an eye for goal and slowly, you can see they’re starting to understand each other’s style of play.
“It’s a matter of time when they get used to this new environment.”
As of now, the Cheetahs have filled up four of the five foreigner slots after signing Chupe, Manato, Nakatake and former Tampines Rovers centre-back Kunihiro Yamashita.
However, the vacancy looks likely to be filled soon if Spanish trialist Pedro Tarancon Ito’s performance last night was of any indication.
The 29-year-old, who previously played for SK Victoria Wanderers in Malta, put in a good shift at the heart of defence alongside Yamashita and has already caught Salim's eye.
“So far, you can see he has very good understanding with ‘Kuni’,” he said.
“The passing game, coverage and communication is there. He also won the aerial balls so I think he’s been fantastic. We’ll make our decision on him soon.”
Named Hougang's new head coach following the merger between Hougang and Woodlands Wellington at the end of last season, Salim is looking to impose his pass-and-move philosophy on this new outfit – something that he admits will take time.
“There’s always a little bit of rustiness in pre-season but as the game went along, we adapted to the situation well,” he said.
“In the first half we were rather cautious but we improved in the second half.
“I always wanted them to create space after passing the ball and they did that. Whenever we won the ball in our own half, we wasted little time to go on the attack.
“This is our new style of football and once the players get used to the transition play, we’ll do well.”
With Fadhil Salim’s future at the club still up in the air, Salim is looking for a suitable man to take over the Cheetahs captaincy.
Midfielder Nurhilmi Jasni, who signed for the club in 2012, had been entrusted with the armband in recent matches and could well take on the role on a permanent basis.
“I’m still trying to future out who’s the right person, but I should say Hilmi is doing well so far,” he said.
“Despite his quietness, he showed his willingness to work hard which is something a captain should do and inspire the others to follow.”
The Cheetahs will take the mandatory 2.4km fitness test on Friday before facing Malaysian Cup champions Pahang FA the following day.
They will then take on an Australian tour team on the 24th before concluding the month's preparation against reigning S.League champions Warriors FC four days later.
Photo: Football Association of Singapore