For those inclined to receive them, the Lions will be arriving on SQ975 today at 3.55pm. They return after having picked up seven goals and conceded two against regional opposition, a respectable start to the new coach Bernd Stange’s reign. Yet this is little cause for celebration. Why?
The first of our wins was 2-0 against a largely U-23 Myanmar side. While it was entirely their choice to field the players they fielded (I hope, it is a friendly after all), we tired out after the first 45 minutes and did not assert our dominance at all. To be fair, I did not watch the first half, and I am told we played much better, but for a more senior team – on average – to look so pedestrian against a less experienced side speaks volumes about both. Not to mention the fact that Yan Aung Win got himself sent off with about half an hour to go, but the Lions never looked like they were two goals and a man up against the plucky Burmese.
On the other hand, our new hope Adam Swandi came on in the second half for his international debut and did not do too badly in midfield. Shariff Samat was also handed his first cap. Veteran Shahril Ishak was not called upon to create ideas. Izwan Mahbud saved a (admittedly weak) penalty. And the local boys did us proud under our new coach.
Then we demolished our Laotian hosts 5-2 in Vientiane, a result that would have been expected by the class of 2007 (where we beat them 11-0 at Kallang in the group stages of the Tiger Cup) and somewhat better than the recent 4-3 win over Laos at the Suzuki Cup. Gabriel Quak and Hafiz Rahim also came off the bench to pick up their first international goals.
But again, it was practically a SEA Games team we were up against. Lembo Saysana, at the Đurician age of 43, was leading a line of 18-22 year-olds to face our squad. This time, Shahril Ishak and Indra Sahdan started and Adam Swandi never came off the bench. Other than for Quak slotting in where the injured Khairul Amri had to be taken off, our team was far more experienced and should have come away more convincing winners, given that we had a 3-0 lead at the break thanks to Indra, Hariss Harun and then Safuwan Baharudin.
Then there was the small matter of the Laotians making a game of it, as had their seniors in December. They pulled back to 3-2 before the two quick goals settled the contest with ten minutes to spare.
I suppose we should at least be glad that we didn’t come back with bloodied noses, that our players are gaining experience and our coach is figuring out slowly what he can do with whom.
Hope we can translate this to more convincing performances against the big boys come the Asian Cup qualifiers…