Thursday, December 9, 2010

AFF Suzuki Cup Group B: Vietnam 1 Singapore 0 - The Writing Was On the Wall Before the Tournament

Have the Lions, and their national head coach Radjoko Avramovic, appeared to have learnt anything from the debacles they had endured this year? If the result that sent Singapore crashing out of the AFF Suzuki Cup meant any significance, it was simply nope.

Similar tactics, just as it was two years ago when we crashed out to our regional nemesis in the semi-finals of the previous edition. The same faces in the squad, barring a few absentees this time due to injury and other reasons. Shahril Ishak may be the new national team captain, but there is still no real leader in the team. Same old, same old.

In the prepartory tournament Singapore participated in in the same nation where our regional aspirations were put to rest, there were some new caps, with one player Adrian Dhanaraj of Geylang United featuring significantly.

Then in February's King's Cup, a few players such as Jeremy Chiang also earned their maiden international caps. Looking back right now, anyone could not help but wonder whether the erstwhile Serbian tactician had given away international caps like freebies dished out at MacDonald's or elsewhere in Singapore.

But when it came to naming the provisional squad for this biennial tournament, the same faces came back into the fold. Nothing wrong with that, but when a few potential contenders for the final squad places, save for Shahdan Sulaiman, did not even make that cut, questions ought to be raised.

Have Avramovic, team manager Eugene Loo, assistant coach Aleksandar Bozenko or goalkeeper coach Lee Bee Seng travelled around Indonesia enough, if at all, to assess the form of the internationals based there? Phone calls to the coaches of clubs such as Persija Jakarta, Arema and Persib Bandung or Indonesian contacts might not be sufficient.

Then there is the Young Lions. Sure, this Football Association of Singapore club side is meant to help promising young footballers. But the one player after the Baihakki, Shahril Ishak and Ridhuan cohort who has emerged as a serious contender for the starting eleven has never even played for this club side.

The only Young Lions to feature in the final squad of 22 were Afiq Yunos and Safuwan Baharudin. Neither excelled in what was a troubled season for the club, and were part of the Asian Games team that flopped in Guangzhou even before the flame was lit.

There was also the ingenuity of Football Association of Singapore technical director Slobodan Pavkovic. Following the National Football Syllabus which makes him a perfect curriculum director candidate for the Ministry of Education in Singapore, he decided to introduce the 4-2-3-1 tactical system to be implemented from the youth teams all the way up to the senior international squad.

Again nothing wrong, ideally this should be the way youth footballers ought to be taught in their football education. Just that Avramovic's tactical evolvement over the years from 4-2-1-3 in 2004 to the present 4-4-2 variations conflicted with his fellow Serbian's plans. Perhaps behind the walls of the Jalan Besar buildings, both men could have clashed over their differing football ideologies.

Now looking into Avramovic's seven-year plus tenure with the Singapore national team, the present class of 2010 is the product of his tactical and football policies he has imprinted in the side, especially with the Young Lions.

Many of the present local-born players in the team, including several foreign talents, have come through this Young Lions factory. They have played together in Southeast Asian Games, Asian Games and other international tournaments, so the familiarity is there.

But is this familiarity among the players also possibly shaped into different factions into the team, as this side is without a genuine leader who can rally the players on and off the pitch following the exit of Aide Iskandar and S Subramani in 2007?

While there is some talent, somehow the pieces are unable to fit nicely as one complete jigsaw puzzle on the pitch after 2007. It is strange that the players, barring the above-mentioned recently retired former internationals, who were part of the successful Asean teams in 2005 and 2007, are now flops at the regional stage.

If there is still the 2011 AFC Asian Cup finals to look forward to, then the Lions will probably regroup and aim to impress at the group stage had they held Jordan to a draw in Amman in March. But no, now there is nothing to look forward to on the international calendar for the next six months at least.

After enduring so many frustrations with the Singapore football system, the players as well as the national team, could this finally be the breaking point for Avramovic, one of the longest serving national team coaches in Singapore's history?

If so, already pundits and fans alike have thrown in names to replace the Serb. But Bolabang believes the hot seat will eventually fall on Pavkovic, whose last coaching job was in the Middle East with the Kuwaiti national team, and Singapore could see a repeat of what had happened to Jan Poulsen when he took on the dual role of technical director and national coach.

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