Shakir demands improvement before SEA Games

Singapore Under-23 captain Shakir Hamzah believes his side have plenty to work on before their 2015 SEA Games football campaign kicks off in June. 

In preparation for the tournament, Aide Iskandar’s men have played a total of six games but lost five so far this year.

And Shakir believes his team-mates must start showing dramatic improvements befitting of a side with ambitions to be crowned regional champions this year.

“Surely there are a lot of areas which we have to learn and improve on,” he told FourFourTwo.

“Right now, all we’re doing is for the preparations for the SEA Games and it’s a really serious matter for us – we want to win it.

The Young Lions had lost 3-1 to Spartak Moscow’s Under-23s, 5-0 to Hamburger SV, 0-3 to Yemen Under-22s and drew 1-1 against Uzbekistan Under-21s on their two-week long tour of Turkey in January.

They returned home to Singapore this month to play two more friendlies in which their winless record continued – a heavy 8-1 defeat to Japan Under-22s last week, and a narrow 2-1 loss to Syria Under-23s on Saturday night.

Shakir acknowledged that his side are far from ready to compete at the SEA Games in their current state, but believes the harsh lessons learnt over these games will help their cause when Singapore hosts the biennial tournament for the first time in 22 years.

 “Honestly the major area (to improve on) to improve on is our transition from defence to attack, but this is still pre-season for us.

“We’re still on the learning curve to become better teams, so it’s good for us to play quality teams like these. From there, we can watch the videos to review our performances and learn from our mistakes.”

Against their Syrian counterparts, the hosts put on an admirable performance, taking an aggressive approach and fighting for every ball which nearly resulted in them earning a draw.

The display prompted Shakir to declare his pride for their newfound mental resilience to bounce back from the morale-crushing defeat to the Japanese a week ago.

“I feel so delighted with what the boys did,” he assessed.

“Against Japan, we did not play as a team and was left demoralised by the scoreline. But last night, we pressed them [Syria] and didn’t give up.

“The boys showed the Singapore fans who they really are, and that we can match quality teams at the top Asian level.”

It may still be early days in Shakir’s reign as national U23 skipper, but it is evident that the 22-year-old is relishing his new role – never afraid to put his foot into 50-50 challenges, while bombing forward on occasions to support the attack.

“I’m the senior in the team so I have to lead by example,” he explained.

“I have to show the younger boys that if I can do the job, they can do it as well.”

The majority of the Under-23 side, who play for Courts Young Lions, will now turn their attention to the S.League campaign, where they will kick off the new season against Hougang United on 2 March.