Team of the Month - S.League in June
With a very congested S.League fixture last month, many sides endured roller-coaster rides in terms of form as they scrambled for favourable positions in the league standings – and for the pacesetters, the title race. Hougang United and Balestier Khalsa stood out for their sparkling showings in a tough fixture programme, and unsurprisingly dominate our team of the month. Brazilian strikers in Singapore also seemed to get into the World Cup swing of things as they plundered goals at various grounds around the country.
Without further ado, we unveil the eleven who made the cut for their endeavours in June.
The Hougang fans have a chant dedicated to their numero uno goalkeeper Fadhil Salim, and it’s not too hard to see why. Already a local favourite for his heroics between the posts over the last few seasons, last month saw the 31-year-old add yet more flying feats to his resume as the Cheetahs continued their fairy-tale pursuit for the league championship.
The captain's assured performances between the posts following his recovery from injury fuelled confidence in his outfield colleagues as they churned out sterling performances in all departments on the pitch. Recording two clean sheets in five matches, he also made several crucial stops to thwart fellow title contenders Home United, Warriors FC and Albirex Niigata (Singapore) that month.
Also impressing was Geylang International custodian Siddiq Durimi. The former national age-group player kept three clean sheets in the Eagles’ first three matches in June, frustrating league leaders Brunei DPMM FC and defending champions Tampines Rovers along the way. However, he was undone in his side’s shock 3-2 home loss to struggling Harimau Muda B at Bedok in the fourth match and subsequently benched in their 0-2 defeat to Hougang.
While a solid goalkeeper instills confidence to the rest of the team, especially the defenders, a reliable backline eases the pressure on the man between the posts. Hougang coach Amin Nasir, who was a defender in his playing days has certainly taken this to heart in constructing a dependable back four to complement Fadhil.
Three of them, Croatian captain Igor Cerina, Wahyudi Wahid and Firman Hanif, were key defensive contributors in the Cheetahs’ good run of form. While Cerina only played two matches before injury sidelined him for the remainder of the month, his two goals – one of them the match winner – against Warriors FC were crucial in propelling his side to an unbeaten run of eight matches and counting.
Wahyudi’s versatility across the back proved to be useful for Hougang as they sought to plug the immediate gap at centre-back by the enforced absence of Cerina. He filled in admirably in that role alongside Firman as they frustrated Lee Kwan Woo, Qiu Li and company in their 3-1 win over Home United.
Since joining Hougang from Courts Young Lions early this season, Firman has grown from strength to strength under the guidance of Amin and made several first-team appearances. With a strong physical presence and sound reading of the game, the 22-year-old put in a commendable shift at centre-back to help his side rise up the league standings.
However, in terms of influence and presence, the former Sports School player was upstaged by Balestier Khalsa’s Emir Lotinac. With regular stalwart and captain Paul Cunningham out injured, the 26-year-old Serbian stepped up in his role as the team’s key man in defence as he contributed to the Tigers’ four-match unbeaten streak with two wins and two draws before losing to Tampines Rovers in their last match in June.
Such was his importance and influence on the pitch that his club coach Marko Kraljevic could not resist mentioning his name time and again. And you can’t blame him either as Balestier look an energised side each time Park Kang Jin takes to the pitch.
The 25-year-old South Korean midfielder played an instrumental role in kickstarting the Tigers’ solid June with a goal and an assist in their 3-0 win over Tanjong Pagar United. This was followed by another impressive showing in the middle of the park where he bossed the midfield and netted again in a victory over Home Utd by the same scoreline later that month.
Another key midfielder central to his team’s sensational month was Hougang’s Japanese midfielder Shunsuke Nakatake. The 23-year-old was a force in midfield, combining his technical finesse with a high work-rate. He played a decisive role from his position in four of the Cheetahs’ matches in June, initiating attacking moves that unsettled defences and retaining possession.
When it came to the delivery of set plays and crosses, no one could do it better than Nakatake’s colleague Fazli Jaffar. It was his crosses that gave Warriors FC much grief in the Cheetahs’ 3-2 victory that push them upwards the table.
In terms of impact and influence, the Hougang winger was eclipsed by Shahdan Sulaiman. The Tampines Rovers playmaker has been given the licence to dictate the tempo since Rafi Ali took over the helm as club head coach last month.
The 26-year-old Singapore international’s influence was felt when it mattered most. He delivered two assists for his side to come from behind to defeat leaders DPMM in the top-of-the-table clash in the second half, first a corner for Kunihiro Yamashita and then a low cross for Noh Alam Shah to score the winner. Then he provided another corner assist for Yamashita to open the scoring in their 2-0 win over Balestier at the end of the month.
Cometh the hour, cometh the man as the period saw Shi Jiayi emerge as an influential and versatile player for title chasers Warriors with three goals in five matches. Whether it was filling in at full-back, centre-midfield or advanced playmaker role, the 30-year-old utility man showed he was the man for the job.
With regular strikers Miroslav Pejic and Nicholas Velez missing through suspension against Balestier, Shi saved his side’s blushes with an equaliser for a share of the spoils. Against Tanjong Pagar, he led the way for Alex Weaver’s men with a first-half brace to put them in a commanding position as they sauntered to a 4-1 home win.
The samba beat from the ongoing World Cup seems to have energised the Brazilian strikers in this category as they filled all three slots up front for our selection. For the S.League Neymar-wannabes, step forward DPMM FC and current league top scorer Rodrigo Tosi together with the Hougang duo of Diego Gama and Geison Moura.
Should the Bruneian professional club lift the championship at the end of the year, they will have the 31-year-old to thank for his goals. Even as Steve Kean’s side endured a tough run-in against fellow title contenders in June, he kept hitting the back of the net and provided the vital headed assist for Azwan Ali Rahman to score the last-gasp winner against Young Lions that snapped a run of four league matches without a win.
Diego Gama and Geison Moura combined for six goals in five matches for the Cheetahs, of which in four of them at least one of them found the back of the net. More crucially, four of their six goals came where it mattered in the tough encounters against the other top half league outfits. Moura alone accounted for four points with the winner against Albirex and the equaliser against Tampines.
They also combined with devastating effect to complement one another as they destroyed Home Utd 3-1 with goals in the second half. The impact they have had on Hougang’s current lofty league position and their ability to match up against the top guns has been vital.
While the Albirex duo of Kazuki Sakamoto and Kazuya Okazaki also combined for six goals last month, their goals came against inferior (Young Lions) and demoralised (Woodlands) opposition. They failed to deliver where it really counted as their side slumped to a loss to an in-form Hougang and were held by a resurgent Balestier.