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Ogura confident players can adapt to high-intensity style

Singapore’s football team have shown promise under new coach Tsutomu Ogura, playing a refreshing style of high-intensity football and displaying unwavering spirit.

While the Lions have impressed fans with their renewed vigour during the World Cup qualifiers against China in March, the Japanese tactician believes that their display is still, at most, just 30 per cent of what he envisions.

In an interview with The Straits Times at the Jalan Besar Stadium on April 1, Ogura said he believes that there is more to come.

The Lions held the 88th-ranked China to a 2-2 draw at home on March 21 and lost 4-1 in Tianjin five days later. In both matches, 156th-ranked Singapore showed grit and a new identity centred on an aggressive high press and a high defence line.

The were Ogura’s first tests after his appointment on Feb 1. They next play South Korea at home and Thailand away in June.

When asked how much of his playing concept has been shown by the Lions, Ogura said: “It’s only just 20 to 30 per cent. It is not 100 per cent. We can do more.

“We are just starting, this (the start) is just the basic. We have to (improve) step by step.”

The 57-year-old also outlined “improving quality in attacking third”, “more composure” and “more combination plays between midfielders and attackers” as areas he hopes to address.

In both matches, the Lions hassled and harried their opponents and also held a higher line in defence. This approach allows teams to press while keeping the distances between defence, midfield and attack tight, but it requires a disciplined defensive unit with courage and high fitness levels.

While this style carries risks, Ogura said he has decided on it as his main objective is to win matches and ensure that Singaporeans get excited.

He wants a team that can give fans “a good feeling so that they must always come back”.

While his predecessors Takayuki Nishigaya and Tatsuma Yoshida had commented that fitness was an issue for the Lions, Ogura denied that it will be a problem for him.

He said that his players – most of whom were observing the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan – were mostly still in pre-season mode. Yet they were able to cope with his demands.

Ogura said: “I’m very surprised (that) everyone says Singapore players’ physical condition is not enough.

“But I don’t think so. In the matches, it was difficult because the players had just started Ramadan and yet they played a strong game against China.”

But he expects more and wants his players to demand more from themselves too.

“When the coach asks for more, they will want to reach a higher level,” added the former assistant coach of Japan’s national and Olympic teams.

While Ogura is convinced of the Lions’ physical attributes, he maintained that the onus is on the coaches to provide the mental stimulation.

He gave a glimpse into his winning mentality after the 2-2 draw, saying that there was nothing to congratulate him for on his debut, as they had not taken all three points.

Some in the football fraternity have often described the Lions as having a weak mentality, going into matches against superior opposition already resigned to defeat.

Ogura wants to work with his coaches to create an environment that will see players having a positive mindset, as he vowed to take the fight to South Korea and Thailand.

He said: “Everyone says the most important thing is the player’s mindset, but I don’t think so. It is the coach’s and the environment. If we react well, then the players will react well too.

“If someone (in the squad) says, ‘Impossible. South Korea is too strong or China is too good’ then we cannot be successful.

“And this mentality has to apply to everyone, from the head coach to even the equipment manager. This is my idea.”