Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Mid-Season Review: Lions XII

The future of a nation's sport team lies on how we groom the youth players, and you are looking at Lions XII (named so to remind us that the 12th player on the field is the fans), a team made up of mostly under-23 players. In other words, the future of Singapore soccer. They are young, inexperienced, but willing to run themselves to the ground for the team's cause. With head coach, V.Sundramoorthy, who has spoken highly of the team's never-say-die attitude, and hunger for result and first-team places, Lions XII promises plenty: quick, short passing with intelligent off-the-ball movements and running into space. And they are currently sitting deservedly on top of the Malaysia Super League with a slight lead of 4 points, half-way through the season.

The objective for this second season is to develop the boys and get them ready for the SEA game in December this year. The idea is to get them playing regular soccer together, coupled with the on-field guidance of a few seniors, and I believe the young players must have benefited tremendously, especially with huge crowd turning up at the Jalan Besar stadium week in and week up to spur them on.

For the uninitiated, the regular seniors in the first team are:

1) Baihakki Khaizan: The rock in defence - the first name on my team sheet. A terror in the opponent's penalty box during our fearsome set-pieces, with his great height and sublime heading skill.

2) Isa Halim: The season's unsung hero in my view so far; As a defensive midfielder, he is a consistent, calming influence who breaks up opponent's attacks.

3) Shahril Ishak: He has an eye for goal, and makes intelligent run into space to create scoring chances for himself and others. He is the fans' "Captain Marvel".

4) Fazrul Nawaz: He's rather underrated, I think. He has physical presence upfront (and mind you, the only natural one), challenging for our keeper's long punt up the field and harrying defenders when they are in possession. He is especially crucial for the team playing away, stalling opponent's attacks in their own half.

The under-23 players who are also regulars in the national team's setup:

1) Izwan Mahbud: I think the goalkeeper's position has a lot to do with confidence. He is very comfortable with crosses, and a very good shot-stopper. Last season, I thought his goal kick was a little erratic, but he has progressed by leaps and bounds this season. But what I like most about him is his great confidence, always ready with timely interception due to his precise reading of the game.

2) Hariss Harun: Touted as the next national team's captain, he is a box-to-box player with a cunning turn of pace, and can turn defence into attack in the blink of an eye. He scores his fair share of goals from midfield too.

3) Safuwan Baharudin: He is very good, even for his tender age. That was what I thought when he first broke into the national team. He is calm and composed on the ball, and shows excellent reading of the game. I think he will grow into a even better player and has expressed his wish to play aboard some day.

The "babies" in the team, so to speak:

1) Faritz Hameed: Mr. Reliable, pacy with no-holds-barred tackles, he is almost unbeatable one on one, as the right-back. He supports the attack well down the flank too, with disciplined overlapping runs.

2) Shakir Hamzah: He is to me, this season's surprise package. This being his second season, he has grown in stability at left-back, and impresses me with his sudden burst of speed and mazy dribbles into the opponent's half to support the attack.

3) Faris Ramli: I think this should be one reason, if not now, that people will pack our stadium to see this lad. A flying winger, an entertainer, a joy to watch with his bag of tricks and flicks. But he is still young, and not the complete product...just yet. In short, he is a frightening prospect. And I am already all excited.

4) Shahfiq Ghani: I think under the circumstances - we don't have a fox-in-the-box striker - he is holding up pretty well. Great awareness and link-up play, with a willingness to run till he drop.

Some fringe players:

1) Hafiz Abu Sujad: I thought he was doing well at the season's start. A very useful player who can play in both defence and attack, distributes the ball well, and is comfortable holding the ball.

2) Zulfahmi Arifin: He is said to be the next "Shahdan Sulaiman", so I was not much surprised when he broke into the team and controlled the midfield with his calm distribution and passing vision. Another one to watch for the future.

3) Nazrul Nazari: He possesses the most precious asset of his trade: frightening pace with the ball at his feet. Another flying winger, almost Michael Owen-like, he pushes the ball past defenders. Though not as tricky as Faris Ramli, I am sure he is still a nightmare for many defenders.

4) Gabriel Quak: There are not many left-footers in the team, and he is a skillful one too. Determined, speedy with a powerful build. He has come in as a substitute to trouble tired defenders, almost at will.

5) Safirul Sulaiman: So I save the best for last. I watched him a few times on television playing for the national team, and he has since made a huge impression on me. Though he wasn't playing much for Lions XII this season, he can attack and defend well, his movements on the field, touches, vision and crosses with his cultured left-foot have left me wondering: how did the other fans miss this wonder kid? Did anyone see what he was doing in that away game against Johor Darul Takzim FC leading to the first goal? How he exchanged passes, ran into space drawing two defenders away, before creating a chance for Hafiz to cross to create havoc in the penalty box? That was some outstanding play and takes a football brain beyond his years. 

My favourite senior and under-23 players of this season so far, are Isa Halim and Faris Ramli, respectively.

So for you fans out there, who are your favourites?  

No comments: