Reflections: Singapore's AFF Suzuki Cup campaign

Singapore’s Suzuki Cup campaign ended on Monday after the Lions succumbed to a 3-0 defeat against potential champions Thailand, at the Rajamangala stadium.

Singapore it can be said suffered a similar fate like in the 2014 and 2016 editions of the AFF Suzuki Cup which saw them bow out of the group stages. Now while some will view the Lions’ campaign as a failure due to their inability to the progress to the semi-finals, it must be said that it is quite the opposite as interim coach Fandi Ahmad brought several positives.

Blooding of youngsters

For starters Singapore’s latest Suzuki Cup campaign saw the emergence of several talented youngsters, who are set to be the cornerstones for the national team in years to come. Zulqarnaen Suzliman was impressive against Indonesia while Ikhsan Fandi’s overhead kick against Timor Leste will be talked about for years to come. Not forgetting also Jacob Mahler and Irfan Fandi: both of whom are primed for a bright future with the Lions.

Although a section of fans would argue that foreign talent is needed in order for Singapore to bring back the glory days seen under the stewardship of Radojko Avramović, having youngsters would negate such a need. This writer believes that it was the over-reliance on foreign imports in the first place which led to a clog in the youth developmental pipeline.

Instead of developing the next Indra Shahdan or Aide Iskandar, Singapore has been far too myopic in trying to lure foreign players. The foreign talent scheme must be abandoned and the nation must look to grow its own.

Ex-lions in the national set-up

Robin Chitrakar, Noh Alam Shah and Subramani: these are names enough to inspire the current crop of players. In fact, it can be asked when was the last time Singaporeans saw so many ex-lions in the national set-up.

Fandi’s decision to have former national players can be described as a masterstroke as these former players bring with them experience money can’t buy. Besides experience is also the knowledge of the game and the proper etiquette they can impart on the current generation of players.

FAS (Football Association of Singapore) must seriously look to continue this trend as former Singapore internationals can act as a valuable guide for the young players, coming through the national team ranks.

 
Free flowing football

Under Sundram, the Lions were regarded as stoic and defensive however in this Suzuki Cup campaign, Singapore were attack-minded and willing to take risks. They scored seven goals in total and recorded a 6-1 scoreline against Timor Leste.

Against Thailand, they endured a battling defeat and even when 2-0 down, they tried to push forward and get a goal. All of this can count for something if the man who replaces Fandi continues such a style. Fans of the Lions want to see the team be bold not meek however this may be difficult as the nation has a shortage of attackers.

Conclusively the 2018 Suzuki Cup campaign for Singapore mustn’t be dubbed as a false dawn for the country. Before the Lions entered the tournament, expectations were low and now despite bowing out, there is a sense of renewed belief in the team from the public.

Let’s just hope the man selected to replace Fandi threads the same path the 56-year-old did.

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