Lions poised for new dawn under Tatsuma Yoshida
Ahead of first competitive match under Yoshida, players impressed with his eye for detail and technical focus
As the Lions gear up for the first match of their World Cup 2022 qualifiers tonight, the air of anticipation among the squad over the week has been almost palpable.
Despite the fact that their opponents Yemen (142nd) are ranked 20 spots higher than them, the Lions are in confident mood, fuelled by the fresh start offered by the appointment of new coach Tatsuma Yoshida.
Said vice-captain Safuwan Baharudin at the pre-match press conference at the Oasia Hotel Novena yesterday: "The mood (in the squad) has been perfect. We are ready to go. Now is a fresh start for us. I believe under coach Tatsuma, we can really do something special."
Players and team officials that The New Paper spoke to revealed that they have been thoroughly impressed by the Japanese tactician's eye for detail and approach.
Yesterday, Yoshida revealed that he had watched 10 Yemen matches in preparation for tonight's tie. He picked out Ahmed Al-Sarori, Ahmed Dhabaan and Abdulwasea Al-Matari as the dangermen.
In contrast, Yemen coach Sami Hasan Al Hadi said he did not know much about the Lions, adding that his team would be using the first half to get a feel of what their opponents could offer.
Another change has been the enthusiasm levels in training.
Under previous coaches, players would sometimes be frustrated by the repetition of drills, but under Yoshida, players have started to see the purpose of the drills as they are briefed on the learning outcomes of each training session before it begins.
Coaching staff have also been reporting to training at least 1½ hours earlier, to get a detailed briefing from Yoshida on what he wants to achieve for the day.
Defender Irfan Fandi, who plies his trade in Thailand with BG Pathum United, told The New Paper on the sidelines of yesterday's training session at the National Stadium: "Sessions have been good.
"His tactics are possession-based and he likes to attack and he emphasises a lot on keeping the ball. The players enjoy that.
"Training is more technical as well. He has focused on the basics like first touch and passing drills. It will help us a lot in the game itself.
"Definitely, I feel very excited and fresh."
Yoshida assessed that his side are ready for Yemen but warned that it will not be easy.
He said: "The boys are ready for the qualifiers. I trust my boys. I trust our abilities and energy.
"It will be a tough 90 minutes. They have very good players and they can run for the whole match. We must be confident. We must try to win."
Meanwhile, Yemen are hoping to achieve a good result to bring some cheer for their war-torn nation.
Just yesterday, the United Nations released a report and appealed to the international community to do more to end the civil war between the Yemeni government and the armed Houthi movement.
As a result of the conflict, there has been no league football in Yemen for the past five years, with the majority of the national team's players plying their trade in Qatar, Oman or the United Arab Emirates.
Despite the difficulties, Yemen qualified for their first Asian Cup Finals earlier this year - a feat that the Lions hope to emulate.
Said Al Hadi said: "We are suffering. There is no football league for the last five years due to the war.
"This has affected our performance and preparations, but we have a good mix of experienced and young players and I am satisfied with their performances.
"Our ambitions are big and we are looking for a positive result against Singapore.
"Every team wants to start with three points."
- For ticket details, go to www.fas.org.sg/tickets/