Lions' midfield trio face scrutiny
SINGAPORE v PAPUA NEW GUINEA
(Tonight, 7.30pm, Hougang Stadium)
The journey to November's Asean Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup at the National Stadium begins in Hougang tonight.
To prepare for the defence of their Asean crown, the Lions will test themselves against little-known islanders Papua New Guinea (PNG) at the Hougang Stadium.
They must, however, do without the guidance of national coach Bernd Stange on the sidelines.
The 66-year-old German is down with a viral fever, and Courts Young Lions coach Aide Iskandar, who led yesterday's training session, will deputise on the bench.
Stange or not, fans will at least get a glimpse of the three-man midfield likely to form the engine room at the Suzuki tournament, which will be co-hosted (with Vietnam) at the Singapore Sports Hub.
In training yesterday, vice-captain Hariss Harun lined up as the anchor man behind playmaker Shahdan Sulaiman, with Zulfahmi Arifin operating in an advance role behind striker Sahil Suhaimi.
The trio lined up that way for just 10 minutes during the two-sided training match, before ably rotating among themselves.
"Playing Zul as a second striker is something Bernd has discussed with the coaches for some time," Aide told The New Paper.
"He's got the technical ability to play as a No. 6 or a No. 10; we want to give him the opportunity to score goals at international level.
"But it's important also that we have three players who can play in each other's position."
The Lions, ranked 152nd in the world, are without several injured regulars, including captain Shahril Ishak and defender Safuwan Baharudin.
The team are set to start with Shahfiq Ghani and Warriors striker Fazrul Nawaz on the flanks, while Young Lions' Amirul Adli or Fadli Kamis could deputise for injured left back Shakir Hamzah.
Zul, 22, is not new to the second striker's role, having played there for the Young Lions in 2010 under then-coach V Sundramoorthy.
Current LionsXII coach Fandi Ahmad has also fielded the playmaker in that position during the Malaysia Cup campaign.
"I like it better; I'm nearer to goal so it allows me to thread a through-pass or shoot once I turn," said Zul, who scored three goals in the Malaysian Super League this season.
Many in the Singapore squad know little about the PNG team, who are led by New Zealander Wynton Rufer, and are ranked 200th in the world.
At a pre-game press conference yesterday, Rufer said his side were clear underdogs, and will employ a defensive approach.
Hariss, however, warned that PNG, known more for their rugby than football, will be very physical opponents.
"I really don't know much about them but, looking at the size of the players, I'm sure they'll be very aggressive," said the 23-year-old.
"It's a good test for us, because against such teams we'll have to make good use of the ball."
Hariss, who has spent the past year with Malaysia's Johor Darul Ta'zim, said he was pleased to see many new, young faces in the national side.
The likes of Shameer Aziq, Stanely Ng (both Young Lions) and Suria Prakash (Warriors) are all uncapped members of the 25-man squad, who will also face Hong Kong at the Hougang Stadium in their second friendly match on Tuesday.
"It's good that the younger players are given the chance to prove their worth with the national team," said Hariss, who was in the previous two Suzuki Cup squads.
"Some of them have lots of potential and it also shows that we have strength in depth.
"I remember, under (previous Lions coach) Raddy (Avramovic), players like Baihakki (Khaizan), Hassan (Sunny) and Fazrul (Nawaz) were all youngsters trying to break into the side; and then I came in later, as well.
"This sort of continuity is important for Singapore football. For now, it keeps us senior players on our toes."
- Ticket prices for both matches are at $3 (concession) and $12 (grandstand).
- Fans can also purchase grandstand tickets for both matches for a bundle price of $20.
- Fans may purchase tickets from TicketBooth’s website, at various TicketBooth outlets, or AXS machines island-wide until 4pm on match-day.
- Ticket sales will resume on match-day from 4.30pm onwards at the Hougang Stadium, subject to availability.
FAS awaits official word from JDT on Hariss
Plagued by player unavailability and injury, Singapore have yet to finalise their Under-23 squad for this month's Asian Games.
Although Johor Darul Ta'zim coach Bojan Hodak told The New Paper on Thursday that he would not release midfielder Hariss Harun, there was no official answer yet from the Malaysian Super League side.
Hodak said that he needed Hariss for the Malaysia Cup commitments.
The Football Association of Singapore is keeping its fingers crossed that Hariss would be released for the football competition from Sept 14-Oct 2, in Incheon, South Korea.
Football at the Asiad is an Under-23 competition, but teams are allowed to field three over-aged players.
National coach Bernd Stange, who will lead the Singapore squad, had earmarked Hariss, who turns 24 on Nov 19, as one of the over-aged players - alongside centre back Baihakki Khaizan and goalkeeper Hassan Sunny.
If Hariss fails to get the JDT green light, it is likely that LionsXII defender Afiq Yunos could be the replacement, as Stange opts for an experienced central defence.
Stange had initially shortlisted Tampines Rovers' Shahdan Sulaiman to take Hariss' place, but the S.League club wish to retain the playmaker for their two-legged Singapore Cup semi-final on Sept 22 and 25.
Young Lions coach Aide Iskandar, who will assist Stange in Incheon, said the squad will be finalised only after Singapore's two friendlies against Papua New Guinea (tonight) and Hong Kong (Tuesday).
Said Aide: "It's up to Bernd to decide on who the third over-aged player will be.
"But we must wait until after the Hong Kong game to see our injury situation. We are still hoping for Shakir (Hamzah) to recover in time."
At the Asian Games, Singapore are drawn with Tajikistan, Oman and Palestine in Group C.
They will kick off their campaign against Tajikistan on Sept 14.