Tuesday, December 02, 2008

3rd Consecutive ASEAN Cup for the Lions?

2nd December 2008, Tuesday

The 7th ASEAN Cup (previously more affectionately known as Tiger Cup) or now known as the AFF Suzuki Cup will kick off in Indonesia

With our constant failure to win the elusive SEA Games gold for football, our hungry nation were awe-struck with the success we had in this competition.
We had shared 3 each with perennial giant Thailand for the previous 6 editions while close rivals and neighbors Malaysia and Indonesia would always watch on.

Our first title came in 1998 with the famous Sasikumar's blade of glory against host nation and hot favorite, Vietnam.
That competition was mired with the disgraceful match between Thailand & Indonesia who felt the better option was to lose and stay at the city they had been residing for the group matches. Own goals were scored blatantly but it was poetic justice when both were knocked out in the semi finals by our Lions and Vietnam.

After the years of distraught under the tutelage of Jan Poulsen and Vincent Subramaniam where we just aren't the regional footballing power as we yearn to be, it was the emergence of a bony former Notts County Serbian coach, Raddy Avramovic that saw us hogging the limelight again after 6 years absence in 2004.
With young FTS talent like Agu Casmir and Itimi Dickson, Singapore was irrepressible brushing everyone aside.
In the memorable 2 legged semi against Myanmar, the Burmese resorted to throwing plastic bottle and having their reserve goalkeeper storming to the pitch to get into the argument which duly backfired on them and saw us meet the host Indonesia in the final which we pulled a stunning 3-1 away victory in the first leg which set the way.

Raddy continued his good work 2 years later when Singapore was the co-host and the main feature of the group stage was the 7 goals scored in the match against Laos by Noh Alam Shah.
As usual, disgraceful scenes were shown...this time in the final when hot favorites and co-host Thailand felt the referee were poor to award us a penalty which saw us win the 1st leg 2-1.
The coaching crew and perhaps their manager urged the players to commit a mass exodus from the field when there were still some minutes to be played.
The Thai were hungry for revenge in the 2nd leg at home and Pipat duly delivered the vital goal to give them the advantage.
However our trump card was shown in young Khairul Amri who took the entire Thai defence by surprise and whipped in the winner.
Total euphoria to win pretigiously, away at Thailand somemore...which is why the competition had etched with such significance in the heart of the local fan.

Merely a year or so later, Raddy hoped to be 3 time lucky when he led our valiant Lions to pursur yet another title, reinforcing our status of the footballing giant in Southeast Asia, and making all the skeptics eat their words.
However Thailand will still be the favorite to pip for their 4th title while co-host, Indonesia and emerging force Vietnam are looking to claim the title for the first time ever.
Then there is the sleeping Tiger in Malaysia...so competition will be steep.

Preparation for the competition hadn't been smooth... The squad was fresh from a long, tiring S League season inclusive of 2 cup tournament, AFF Cup for the likes of SAF and Home Utd and a string of World Cup Qualifying and national friendlies.
The usual captain Indra Shadan who had a quiet year for both club and country were criticised and had his position in jeopardy.
He responded in the most positive way on the pitch and nearly allowed Home Utd to claim the title till an inury put him out but he did managed to get back to fitness just in time.

Young forwards Khairul and Fazrul Nawaz were both unfortunate to see their chance to show their talent in the competitions due to season-ending injuries.
Qiu Li, the most recent naturalized player from China saw his eligibility been rebuked with the FIFA regulation.
Noh Alam Shah who served up to 7 months of ban for punching national teammate Bennett during last year Singapore Cup Final were struggling with fitness after recent injury woes.
But his presence would prove vital as well as another striker who went into oblivion in the early part of the season, Agu Casmir.
With the evergreen and ever-fit Aleksandar Duric, we should have a strike force that would sent shivers down our opposing defence's spine.

The midfield relys heavily on the naturalised trio of Mustafic Fahrrudin, John Wilkinson and Shi Jiayi.
No matter the constant barrage of criticism of us buying for success, all 3 as well as the other FTS are willing Singapore citizen and without them our team might not be strong enough to see us into the 3rd qualifying round of the World Cup.

The Achilles heel of the squad really lies with Raddy's staunch faith in his favored back four.
Big Precious and the equally immobile Baikkaki Khaizan somehow did not have the pace nor the defensive capability to fend off the speed of some of SE Asia best forwards.
I think even Fandi at his ripe old age now could breach the defense with both eyes closed....
Noh Rahman had always been a reliable rightback but having missed most of the season through injury when playing for his club Geylang, still ain't back to his top form.
Meanwhile the man many fans including myself pinpointed as the solution for the softbelly at the heart of the defense, Daniel Bennett is playing out of place at the left where he lacks the pace, crossing ability or the attacking impetus.
Somehow his young SAF team mate Saiful Esah or Home Utd's Juma'at Jantan might be of better option.

The frailty of the defense was exposed in the 2 recent friendlies with Vietnam and Malaysia for the build up to the competition when our team was leading 2-1 on both occasion with only minutes to go but the defense couldn't held on the lead and were punished with a late equalizer.

While we seemed to bless with some good goalkeepers in recent time, I felt Lionel Lewis though the bestowed with the perfect physique for a custodian, somehow just isn't the same guy who took the competition by storm a year ago.
His sombre form opens the door to the 2nd choice, Hassan Sunny who shown his capability to guard between the sticks in the latter 2 games of the WC qualifying when the fissures in Lionel's game was showing.
Once again Raddy's blinding nepotism saw Lionel claiming the starting position which many feared might jeopardized our chance to retain the cup.

Our campaign began this Friday against Cambodia and a big win is crucial as every single goal counts when you want to notch the top placing going into the semi finals.
Myanmar and host Indonesia will be a stumbling block but if we can get 4 points out of those 2 games, the lads will be brimming with confidence going into the semi with perhaps the Viet who seems the likely opponent if we finished top of Group A.

It's not wise to count the eggs before they hatch but I do have faith this team can repeat their previous heroics and will keep tuned to the live matches including that on Friday since I will be on leave (what a great way to spend my off days from work).
But somehow I felt the odds will be stack against us...if we can persevere through it, surely we have earn the rights to be called the footballing kings of Southeast Asia!

Japanese word of the day: 第3回目 (Third Time) Might be 3rd time unlucky..yikes

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