Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Up close with Singapore’s final XI

While Thailand have come through this year’s AFF Suzuki Cup fairly unscathed, Singapore coach Radojko Avramovic has had to dig deep into his squad to cover for the absence of key players during the competition.
Seven players have started every game in this tournament for the Lions in their preferred 4-2-3-1 formation but Avramovic has had to contend with the loss of midfield dynamo Hariss Harun to a shin fracture and the absence of the versatile Shi Jiayi since the group stage because of a family emergency.
Five players – defenders Daniel Bennett, Shaiful Esah and Safuwan Baharuddin, midfielder Isa Halim and forward Fazrul Nawaz – were booked during the group stage and face suspension if they receive another yellow card during the first leg of the final.
As they prepare for their final clash against Thailand, www.affsuzukicup.com profiles Singapore’s likely starting XI.
Izwan Mahbud, position - goalkeeper, club – Lions XII, age - 22
Izwan Mahbud was Singapore’s third-choice goalkeeper at the last AFF Suzuki Cup in 2010 but the 22-year-old is now firmly established as the Lions’ No.1. An excellent shot-stopper with quick reflexes, Izwan reads the game well and will readily come off his line to sweep away any dangerous long balls into his box. Apart from misreading a free-kick by Andik Vermansah that resulted in a 1-0 loss to Indonesia, he has been near faultless during the tournament.
Daniel Bennett, right full-back, Singapore Armed Forces, 34
The most experienced player in the Singapore squad, Daniel Bennett has made 120 appearances for the Lions and is playing in his sixth Asean Football Championship. Able to play anywhere across the back four, Bennett may be lacking in pace against nimble attackers but his excellent positional sense makes him tough to beat.
Baihakki Khaizan, centre back, Lions XII, 28
An experienced and lanky centre-back who made his international debut as a teenager in 2003, Baihakki Khaizan has recovered well from his disappointing campaign with the Lions two years ago to become a rock at the centre of their defence. With his vocal and commanding presence at the back, Singapore have kept three clean sheets in five games in this campaign.
Safuwan Baharuddin, centre back, Lions XII, 21
Despite being one of the youngest members of the squad, Safuwan Baharuddin has started in central defence for Singapore in every match of the tournament so far. Having played alongside Baihakki Khaizan for the Lions XII in the Malaysian Super League earlier in 2012, the 21-year-old has formed a good understanding with his more senior defensive partner. Safuwan also likes to get forward and can be a handful for defenders on set-pieces in the opposition's box.

Shaiful Esah, left full back, Lions XII, 26
There were big worries for Singapore when Shaiful Esah sprained the ankle on his trusty left foot during the opening game against Malaysia. However, he made a quick recovery and missed only one game before he came on a substitute against Laos and helped to turn a two-goal deficit into a 4-3 win. His excellent delivery of crosses set up Shahril Ishak’s opener against Malaysia and Fazrul Nawaz’s headed goal against Laos.
Fahrudin Mustafic, defensive midfielder, Tampines Rovers, 31
Experienced, assured and a tough tackler, Fahrudin Mustafic allows little to get past him in the Singapore midfield and he was at his impressive best when he frustrated the Philippines during the semi-finals. However, he suffered a groin strain in the second leg of the semi-final and is 50-50 to play in the final.
Isa Halim, defensive midfielder, Lions XII, 26
A veteran of Singapore’s 2007 Asean Football Championship-winning side, Isa Halim began this year’s competition on the bench but the loss of Hariss Harun and Shi Jiayi have elevated him to the first XI. His accomplished and determined display in central midfield against the Philippines in the second leg of the semi-finals prompted coach Avramovic to say that Isa “has two hearts.”
Shahril Ishak, right winger, Lions XII, 28
Team captain Shahril Ishak has led the Lions by example during this year’s AFF Suzuki Cup, plundering four goals to lie second in the tournament’s scoring chart. A highly accomplished attacking midfielder, Shahril can cause all sorts of problems for opposition defenders with his excellent close control, his fine crossing ability and his knack for being in the right place at the right moment.
Aleksandar Duric, attacking midfielder, Tampines Rovers, 42
Despite his age, Aleksandar Duric is one of the Lions’ fittest players and a genuine threat to score as he has averaged a goal in nearly every other game that he has played for Singapore during the past five years. A tall target man who holds up the ball well for his teammates, Duric became the competition’s oldest goalscorer when he netted against Malaysia. The 42-year-old will retire from international football after the tournament but first hopes to make his mark in the final.
Shahdan Sulaiman, left winger, Lions XII, 24
Able to play in an attacking or defensive role in midfield, Shahdan Sulaiman has been one the Lions’ main providers at this year’s AFF Suzuki Cup, setting up goals for Shahril Ishak and Aleksandar Duric against Malaysia and assisting on Khairul Amri’s winner against the Philippines with a quickly-taken free-kick
Khairul Amri, striker, Lions XII, 27
The scorer of Singapore’s winning goal against Thailand in the 2007 final, Khairul Amri has overcome a host of injury problems over the past four years to re-establish himself as an international striker. While he is a dangerous poacher in the box, both of his goals in the tournament have come from distance – a delightful free-kick against Laos and a well-taken 25-metre drive in the hard-fought semi-final against the Philippines.

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