Azkals wary of Singapore's Song Ui-young
Philippines coach Hall and striker Maranon praise South Korea-born Lions midfielder ahead of clash
Before the Lions' AFF Suzuki Cup opener against Myanmar last Sunday, Song Ui-young tried to play it cool and approach the game like any other.
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 yesterday.
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 debut in a friendly against Kyrgyzstan in Dubai last month.
Ahead of the Lions' second Group A match against the Philippines tonight, Azkals coach Stewart Hall said he is aware of the threat Song possesses.
"He's a good player," said the Englishman. "(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 Lion City Sailors teammates Hariss Harun and Shahdan Sulaiman, and gave Singapore an added dimension with his hard running from midfield.
He also had a hand in the second goal, releasing Faris Ramli - another clubmate - on a counter-attack before the latter provided the assist for in-form striker Ikhsan Fandi to score.
Philippines striker Bienvenido Maranon also praised Song, saying he is one of many Singapore players he is familiar with after 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 Filipino citizen in July, having played in the country with Ceres (now renamed United City) since 2015, and could make his international debut tonight.
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 champions, they last reached the semi-finals during their victorious 2012 campaign.
The Azkals, meanwhile, have made the semi-finals in four of the five editions since 2010.
Singapore coach Tatsuma Yoshida challenged his players to use this Asean Football Federation Championship to take the Lions 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 was praised by Yoshida 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."