Suzuki Cup: Lions ready to hit right notes against Philippines, says Song
SINGAPORE - Prior to the Lions' AFF Suzuki Cup opener against Myanmar last Sunday (Dec 5), Song Ui-young tried to play it cool and approach the game like any other match. That all went out the window the moment he walked onto the pitch at the National Stadium.
"When I entered the field and heard the fans, I realised: 'Ok, this is different, this is special. This game is huge'," he told The Straits Times on Tuesday.
The 28-year-old South Korea-born midfielder, however, proved he was not overawed by the occasion and put in a typically dynamic shift as Singapore won 3-0.
It was his first competitive game for the Lions since he received citizenship in August, having made his international debut in a friendly against Kyrgyzstan in Dubai in November.
Ahead of the Lions' second Group A match against the Philippines on Wednesday, Azkals coach Stewart Hall said he is aware of the threat Song possesses.
"He's a good player," said the English coach. "(Singapore) like to play on the counter-attack and he's pivotal to that. He's almost like a transition player for them, and a very technical player."
Against Myanmar, Song played in a midfield trio alongside his Lion City Sailors teammates Hariss Harun and Shahdan Sulaiman, and gave Singapore an added dimension with his hard forward running from midfield.
He also had a hand in the third goal, releasing Faris Ramli - another club teammate - on a counter-attack as the latter assisted in-form striker Ikhsan Fandi to put the game to bed.
Philippines striker Bienvenido Maranon also singled out Song for praise, telling ST that he is one of many Singapore players he is familiar with through battles in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Cup competition over the years.
"Song is a very good player and it will be nice to play against him again, on a different stage like the Suzuki Cup," said Maranon, who is the AFC Cup's all-time leading scorer with 35 goals.
The 35-year-old is a naturalised player himself. Born in Spain, he became a Philippine citizen in July, having played club football in the country with Ceres (now renamed United City) since 2015, and could make his international debut on Wednesday.
Maranon and his teammates watched Singapore's win over Myanmar keenly from the team hotel, and he was impressed by the Lions' effectiveness as a unit.
"There's no selfish player or no (star) man. They're a real team," he said.
But he is confident that the Azkals, even with a disjointed preparation - they will miss several overseas-based players owing to issues travelling into Singapore - can match the Lions when they kick off their Suzuki Cup campaign.
"Everybody is excited to play Singapore… We have very good players and a very good team, and we will give them a difficult time. That's our intention," he said.
While Singapore are four-time tournament champions, they last reached the semi-finals in 2012, when they won. The Philippines, meanwhile, have made the semi-finals in four of the five editions since 2012.
Singapore coach Tatsuma Yoshida challenged his players to use this Asean Football Federation Championship to take the Lions forward into "a new era" but stressed they have to be focused against the Philippines.
"We have to reset our physical and mental condition from the (Myanmar) game," said the Japanese.
Song, who Yoshida praised for bringing a "winning mentality and fighting spirit" to the team, said he and his teammates have done just that.
"After the first game, all the players feel we can do better," he said.
"The first game (in a competition) is never easy, but now we are warmed up, I think we can put in a better performance against the Philippines."