Lions lack a successor for Hassan and Izwan – Lionel Lewis admits goalkeeping situation is a concern
With reliable shot-stoppers Hassan Sunny and Izwan Mahbud manning the posts, the goalkeeping department appears an area of least concern for Singapore.
Yet with no obvious successor to the pair in sight, former national team custodian Lionel Lewis is concerned about the lack of talent lined up to take their place when they are eventually past their peak.
“It’s a pretty major issue,” he told FourFourTwo at a guest appearance at the inaugural Epson Singapore Cup at SAFRA Tampines on Saturday.
Sundram prefers greater experience. Hassan has been there, playing big games and having experience at that level.
“I don’t see any young goalkeepers ready to step up their game and don the (national) jersey, and work their socks off to earn the opportunity.”
The 33-year-old conceded that, with Hassan, 32, and Izwan, 26, in a league of their own, potential starlets risk being pushed to the periphery for the meantime, leaving them unprepared to fill the large gloves when the time comes.
“I think the position is safe for the next few years. We need an up-and-coming player to support the team, but it’s hard with two quality goalkeepers there,” said Lewis, who retired from professional football in 2012 due to a persistent ankle injury.
“During my time, I was lucky. All the goalkeepers were around my age, and we all fought for our opportunity. We trained really hard, and during big games we had the chance to prove ourselves.
“As professional footballers, all of us want to be on the field. Be it me, Hassan or Shahril (Jantan), we had to work extra hard to ensure we claim the starting spot and stay there.”
Singapore coach V. Sundramoorthy’s team selections appears to establish Lewis’ old rival Hassan over Izwan, going into November’s AFF Suzuki Cup.
The Army United stopper has so far started three of Sundram’s four international games in charge.
Lewis is not surprised at Izwan’s relegation to the bench, despite the Tampines Rovers player’s strong performances during former coach Bernd Stange’s reign.
He added: “Maybe Sundram prefers greater experience. Hassan has been there, playing big games and having experience at that level.
“Izwan as well, but as they say, goalkeepers become better as they get older, like wine.”
With slightly more than two months to the regional tournament, however, Lewis believes that the fight for a starting spot is far from over.
“(Such friendly competition) will only spur each other on, and ensure a top performance from either one of them,” the shot-stopper, who made 73 appearances for Singapore, said.
“At this point, Izwan needs to step up his game and perform well. It’s a good fight… we still don’t know who will start (at the Suzuki Cup), it’s still open.
"It’s up to them to show the coach who deserves it more.”
Whoever is depended upon in the Philippines will need to stand firm between the posts, with some difficult fixtures to tackle.
The Lions, ranked 159th in the world, were drawn with defending champions Thailand (120th), the Philippines (134th) and Indonesia (191st) in a tough Group A.
“Thailand have a good mixture of players with the majority still young, and they play beautiful football,” Lewis said of the regional powerhouse.
“Indonesia might be dark horses, and the Philippines have some good quality players. It will be really tough.”
Despite the stacked odds, Lewis, who won the biennial tournament three times, believes a tough draw actually plays into the Lions’ favour.
“I feel that we always play better when playing tougher opponents, as the players are more focused and have the mindset to work doubly hard,” he said.
“The ball is round, anything can happen. Hopefully the guys can focus and take it one game at a time.”