Thursday, March 27, 2008

Bring it On, Uzbekistan!!

27th March 2008, Thursday

As Foo mentioned last evening, it is a good time to be a supporter of the Lions...our national football team
Amid the doom and gloom of the inflation, the search of Mas Selamat which crippled our peaceful everyday lives and speculation of the GST might increase to 10% soon, the much-ridiculed Lions put up a great show at the National Stadium at Kallang last evening, beating Lebanon in the 3rd Round Group game for the qualification of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

Foo who renewed my interest in local footballing scene when I was a fellow victim of costly paid cable exclusive for all footballing entertainment, even skipped an evening class to catch the broadcast live on Channel 5.
We were chatting vehemently on the MSN like a pair of lovers or giggling teenagers as perhaps the only means of watching the match together as we used to in distant past...

Last Saturday, the Lions had a credible draw with the Socceroos but pundits claimed that the treacherous, waterlogged pitch of the National Stadium (which should be closed for renovation by now & the Australian National team even came for a friendly then before their World Cup adventure) was the root to a dour match...
Seemingly the pitch master managed to put the green of this famous stadium in place before we entertained our Middle Eastern opponents.
The Lions lost rather unfortunately at Saudi Arabia months back as the gulf of a difference was quite blatant while the Lebanese were shot down by the mighty former Soviet nation, Uzbekistan at home; therefore both team needed a win to get the campaign back on track and my home nation was the one more urgent to do so especially in front of a home crowd of 11,000.

Weather was unpredictable for the past few days but the sky opened up nicely for the game at half past 7 though the humidity which we always used to play to our advantage could be on the high side.
The Lebanese were missing 7 starters (supposedly) including 4 star players plying their trades in German leagues (not sure whether is the Bundesliga) and we sure didn't want to show any empathy to their cause.
In the past we used to give our opponents too much respect but with our improving professional league and talented players we has amassed we surely can compete readily with what the best of Asia can offer.

The swift progress of our national team mainly has to be down to one man... perhaps the martyr of our beleaguered soccer scene, Radojko Avramovic or we like to known as Raddy.
Beneath that skeletal frame which enables him to be an extra in Michael Jackson's "Thriller" MV without any make-up, this Serb who had some professional playing time at Notts County was the shrewd tactician and motivator to bring us 2 back-to-back ASEAN (Tiger) Cup and making the Lion's den a tough ground to enter; thus we had not witness anymore embarrassing 4:0 mauling by out neighbors from the north.

Raddy also had the eyes for the right players for the right positions...
Over the course of 5 years or so, he had readily incorporated foreign talents and young impressive players into the squad usually horded by those usual players.
the Foreign Talent Scheme or FTS had met great success in other sports like table tennis, badminton & track & field.
But after the FA taking France as an example when they won the World Cup in 1998, decided to enlist some of the more well known foriegn talents who had been in the S League for a while like Goncalves & Grabovac, both of whom had been disappointing in the international scene.
However the recent enlistment like Mustafic Fahrudin, Shi Jiayi, Precious Emuejeraye, Jon Wilkinson and most importantly Aleksandar Duric changed the landscape.
And when they sang the anthem with such pride with the local lads, we knew they had readily accepted the fact that our country has embraced them for the commitment.
Duric, at the ripe age of 37 was surely a late bloomer in the international scene but he scored a brace against Tajikistan in his debut to single-handedly put us through to the 3rd round of the qualifiers, a height our local team had never been able to attain.
He scored last evening as well with a wonderful blast after out through by Shi Jiayi for the opening goal.
That dictates the game and was part of his pristine performance which include a near 2nd goal from a slide from Khairul Amri's ground pass across the goalmouth and purposeful passing throughout.
He had telepathic link with his co-attackers like Indra and Fazrul as well, a delight to watch.
He might ran out of steam as the game matured, he surely is a danger as a goal poacher when he is around.
For a while I thought we might miss Noh Alam Shah, but Duric well made up the void.
When the former returns from that moment of luncy in the Singapore Cup final, we will have plenty of attacking options...

Shi Jiayi was perhaps might man of the match. He is perhaps the best thing Sinchi FC had brought us.
He is surely a great playmaker which links well with the attackers and look very comfortable on the right flank as well.
But its his deadball specialist ability that we had been lacking for years that we should treasure this young Chinese chap (he looks abit like Oguri Shun with the long hair).

Raddy's penchant for young players is also reaping rewards for us.
Obviously instrumental with the building of the Young Lions, he had readily added the young players into the mix, and they managed to step up and makes the future of football here very assuring.
Fazrul Nawaz, one of the young Lions on show scored the all important 2nd with a lucky deflection off one of the Lebanon defender. But he did kept his nerves to choose to shoot. He had to gllaring chances to score before that.
But he needs to mature as he picked up an unnecessary yellow card and nearly awarded a 2nd...
Raddy promptly replaced him with Khairul Amri, another known hero (scorer of the winner in Thailand for Tiger Cup) and his speed was a menace for the tiring Lebanese defence.
Another starlet was Sharil Ishak who have 2 nice chances to add on the lead as well.
The final substitution is an even younger Hariss Harun, who seems to cope well despite playing the last 10 minutes, ensuring the opposition doesn't score.

So when the papers stated that the final score should stand at 6-0, it was exaggerating. While Lebanon applied intense pressure at the latter stage of the 1st half and sporadically in the 2nd period, we still had better goal-scoring chances and one move which ended with Mustafic with a thunderous shot on goal, parried away by the opposition custodian, I had the epiphany that this team might be the best ever, in terms of talent and ability.

With Uzbekistan soundly beating Saudi at home, the table is thrown wide open.
On 2nd June, we will entertain the Central Asian and it would be a tough game as Maksim Shatskikh and gang possess the built and tenacity that require the Lions to match with all their moght.
One blaring problem was the defense persistently failed to deal with the aerial threats of the Lebanese and this could be a problem when we faced the Uzbeks, hope Raddy could rectify that in 2 months time.

Foo and I unanimously felt we should render our support to the Lions come June and so should you 'cos we got such golden opportunity to make it into the 4th round...
A certain minister began the "Goal 2010" campaign which always to be scoffed at but suddenly it didn't seem that absurd...Go Lions!

Japanese word of the day: 希望~ki-bou~ (Hope) Mr Mah's baseless speculation may actually come true...I sure hope so

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