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Ali Kasim
Saturday, Sep 6, 2014

Sports

Football: National coach upbeat about strikers

The New Paper | Ali Kasim | Saturday, Sep 6, 2014

Singapore Under-23 striker Mohamad Sahil Suhaimi (No. 3) celebrating with his team mates after scoring a goal against Vietnam Under-23 during the South-east Asian (SEA) Games 2013 at Zayar Thiri Sports Stadium in Naypyidaw, Myanmar on 8 December 2013.

A year ago, national coach Bernd Stange constantly lamented the lack of a proven goalscorer in Singapore.

"We have a problem. There are no strikers on this island," he once told The New Paper before an Asian Cup qualifier last year.

Now, after the recent rise of Courts Young Lions striker Sahil Suhaimi, the form of Home United's Fazrul Nawaz in the S.League, and the encouraging performances of Khairul Nizam in the Malaysia Cup over the past two weeks, the German coach said he has reason to be optimistic.

"The situation has changed. We can be more optimistic about our local boys now," said the 66-year-old.

"Young Sahil is fast coming up, Nizam has shown recently that he has the moves, Fazrul is in good form, and we must not forget (Khairul) Amri.

"But don't forget where Sahil and Nizam were a year ago."

In preparation for November's Suzuki Cup and one eye on the Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea, later this month, Stange is set to test Sahil, 22, and Fazrul, 29, during the Lions' upcoming friendly matches against Papua New Guinea (Saturday) and Hong Kong (Tuesday).

Both matches will be played at the Hougang Stadium.

The main striker's role is expected to go to Sahil, who has notched eight goals in the S.League this season.

The skilful striker is expected to lead the line in Incheon, as well as for the Under-23s at the 2015 South-east Asia Games, which Singapore will host.

Revival 

Plagued by fitness issues at the start of the season, when he took six attempts before passing the mandatory 2.4km fitness test, Sahil has improved well over the past eight months, said Stange.

But the German coach cautioned that there is room for improvement for the youngster.

"We know that he is a good goalscorer, but he lacks in other areas," he said.

"I recently gave him a book by (Borussia Dortmund coach) Juergen Klopp on how to choose strikers.

"There are two main criteria. The first was, of course, the player's (knack for) goals. The second was about how the player works off the ball; how he runs and disturbs the defence.

"Sahil has to learn that - it is 50 per cent of his job."

Stange's biggest concern over Nizam is the player's fitness and injury proneness.

A catalogue of injuries to the LionsXII hitman's left knee has seen him miss about 18 months of football in the last two years.

Stange has decided to include Nizam in his Asian Games squad to have fitness coach Sasha Bozenko monitor his progress.

Should Sahil fail to find the net during the upcoming friendlies, the scoring onus will fall on Fazrul, who was picked for the Singapore Selection against Juventus last month, after a year of international wilderness.

The Home United striker is the leading local goal-getter in the S.League with 10 strikes, and is eyeing a starting role in the Suzuki Cup.

"I just want to keep going. Playing in the Suzuki Cup is very important to me because I desperately want to play at the new National Stadium," Fazrul said.

"We don't know who will start up front the next two games (but) I'm just glad to be back for the Lions, and happy that my efforts in the S.League have been noticed."

aakasim@sph.com.sg

This article was published on Sept 4 in The New Paper.

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