2012 S.League Team of the Season

The 2012 Great Eastern-YEO's S.League campaign came to a close last week and for the second year running, Tampines Rovers finished top of the pile.

Gabriel Tan

By Gabriel Tan

But while it was the Stags who hoisted the trophy aloft last Friday, plenty of sides can be pleased with what they achieved in 2012.

In their first season back in the S.League following a FIFA ban from all competition, DPMM FC kept pace with Tampines all the way before having to settle for a runners-up finish, while new boys Harimau Muda ended the year a creditable fourth, despite having no player above the age of 23.

Balestier Khalsa also created waves in their first season under Darren Stewart, climbing up the table and finishing sixth, while the likes of Hougang United and Gombak United all showed promising signs even if their positions on the table did not reflect that.

Likewise, 2012 also saw several players emerge as genuine stars of Singapore's top flight, while other seasoned campaigners did further enhanced their already-burgeoning reputations.

Here, ESPNSTAR.com picks our best 11 players of the recently-concluded S.League campaign, as well as an equally-impressive substitutes bench.

GK: Yazid Yasin (Geylang United)

It might seem strange that the goalkeeper we've plumped for also happens to be the one who played for the side with the worst defensive record in the league.

Nonetheless, few would argue that if not for Yazid, Geylang might have finished bottom of the pile as he singlehandedly prevented them from being on the receiving end of some humiliating defeats.

The veteran custodian was the most consistent custodian in the competition and put in several inspirational displays, including against Harimau Muda at the Jalan Besar Stadium when he made a string of outstanding saves to restrict the Malaysians to a 2-0 win.

Yazid also showed there are still good guys around by helping expose a match-fixing attempt this year, and is the perfect example of a professional that youngsters should look to follow.

Honourable mentions: Takuma Ito (Albirex Niigata), Lionel Lewis (Home United)

RB: Nor Azli Yusoff (Home United)


Nor Azli may be a late bloomer in the S.League but there is no denying he is now one of the best full-backs in the competition, and is equally capable of doing a job in defensive midfield.

The 29-year-old gave 100% every time he turned out for the Protectors, which was best exemplified in the RHB Singapore Cup quarter-final clash against DPMM when he refused to come off at the break despite picking up a heavy knock although he was ultimately on the losing side as the Bruneians triumphed in the penalty shootout.

Given his age, it appears unlikely Nor Azli will ever get a chance to establish himself as Singapore's first-choice right-back but the Lions can at least rest safe in the knowledge that if the need ever arises, he will be a more-than-capable player to call up.

Honourable mentions: Ismail Yunos (Gombak United), Mahalli Jasuli (Harimau Muda)

CB: Fadhli Shas (Harimau Muda)


Granted, the 21-year-old did not exactly feature regularly for Harimau Muda as he was often called up for international duty by Malaysia coach K. Rajagopal.

But when he did turn out for Ong Kim Swee's young side, he showed tremendous poise and ability for one so young and looks set to become one of the region's best defenders in the years to come.

Fadhli's impeccable reading of the game and technical ability meant that whenever he weighed in with a vital interception to break down an opposition attack, he was the perfect man to initiate proceedings for the Young Tigers, which laid the foundation for their intricate, short-passing style of play.

CB: Paul Cunningham (Balestier Khalsa)


With the cultured Fadhli as one of our centre-backs, who better to play alongside him than the imposing Cunningham, who has been brilliant for the Balestier this year with his influential and no-nonsense style of play.

The New Zealander's partnership with Goran Subara in the heart of defence helped the Tigers to the best defensive record in the competition, conceding just 20 goals in 24 games, and he was equally effective at the other end as he weighed in with three goals, one of which when he was playing as an auxiliary centre forward against Tanjong Pagar United.

The way Cunningham always leads by example has also seen him named as the captain of our Team of the Season.

Honourable mentions: Goran Subara (Balestier Khalsa), Tales dos Santos (DPMM FC), Sofiyan Abdul Hamid (Home United), Norihiro Kawakami (Albirex Niigata)

LB: Zulfadli Zainal Abidin (SAFFC)


Apart from their triumph in the RHB Singapore Cup, 2012 was a year to forget for the Warriors as they slumped to 7th in the league but the emergence of Zulfadli was a real bright spark for them.

The departure of Shaiful Esah to Malaysia Super League outfit LIONSXII may have left a gaping hole in of defence, and while he initially started the season playing as an anchorman, Zulfadli eventually made the left-back spot his own with a series of solid displays.

The 24-year-old was nearly unbeatable in one-on-one situations and has tremendous strength for his size, which he showed in a game against Tampines when he easily barged the towering Aleksandar Duric off the ball.

Honourable mentions: Nurullah Hussein (Gombak United), Duncan Elias (Woodlands Wellington), Fazly Hasan (Hougang United)

RM: Wan Zack Haikal (Harimau Muda)


Given how modern-day football has evolved, it was very refreshing to see a traditional out-and-out winger like Wan Zack thrive in the S.League.

On his day, the Malaysia international was unstoppable with his bursting runs down the flank and unlike many wide midfielders, he was always able to deliver the final blow, whether it was in the form of a pinpoint cross or a devastating shot.

Wan Zack gave an early sign of things to come when he scored the winner in a 2-1 win against SAFFC at the Choa Chu Kang Stadium, and ended off with an equally big bang in his final game of the season when he laid on assists for all three goals in Harimau's 3-0 triumph over Geylang United.

Honourable mentions: Imran Sahib (Tampines Rovers), Firdaus Idros (Home United)

CM: Rosmin Kamis (DPMM FC)


The likes of Tales dos Santos, Ivan Jerkovic and Basiru Osman may have stolen much of the limelight at the Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah National Stadium this season, but whenever the going got tough for DPMM, it was always Rosmin who stood tallest with his determined displays in the middle of the park.

The Brunei international may have spent much of the season deployed as a defensive midfielder, but that did not stop him from weighing in with his fair share of assists and goals, many of which came from his delightful set-piece deliveries.

With Rosmin in the side, there is no shortage of determination and experience in our side and he deservingly earns the accolade of vice-captain of our team.

CM: Ahmad Latiff (Tampines Rovers)


When we set out selecting our Team of the Season, we decided to pick a team that would excel if they were to play a game together, meaning we wanted to choose players that complement one another rather than go for just the two best central-midfielders of the season.

As such, with Rosmin anchoring our midfield, we decided to go for the most-creative playmaker to partner him in the engine room, and no player was arguably at that this season than Latiff.

The one-time bad boy of Singapore football now plays with a real maturity and rarely loses his cool on the pitch. Instead, he devotes all his time to dictating the tempo for his side and delivering the perfect pass, something which he did to great effect as the Stags successfully defended the title.

Latiff's intelligence also saw him pop up with vital goals throughout the campaign as he regularly found space inside the area with his late, darting runs, before capitalising on loose balls with the most-clinical of finishes.

Honourable mentions: Musashi Okuyama (Albirex Niigata), Irfan Fazail (Harimau Muda), Hafiz Abu Sujad (Courts Young Lions), Azhar Sairudin (Hougang United)

LM: Tatsuro Inui (SAFFC)


It was no secret this season that whenever Inui played well, SAFFC played well, proving the Warriors were right to move for the reigning S.League Young Player of the Year at the end of last season.

The quicksilver Japanese has one of the most damaging left foots in the competition and was extremely dangerous whenever his side won a freekick in the attacking third.

Inui's pace and dribbling ability also saw meant he was equally threatening from open play, and the future looks very bright for the 22-year-old.

Honourable mentions: Sho Kamimura (Albirex Niigata), Sherif El-Masri (Courts Young Lions), Azwan Saleh (DPMM FC)

ST: Shahrazen Said (DPMM FC)


Shahrazen may not have been the most-prolific striker in the league this year, finishing as the fourth-highest scorer behind Frederic Mendy, Jozef Kaplan and Mislav Karoglan.

But his 13-goal haul was an excellent return considering, for the most part, he was deployed as a right forward and found himself in goalscoring positions purely based on his instinct and tireless movement.

On several occasions when both Patrick da Silva and Basiru Osman were misfiring, it was Shahrazen who came to DPMM's rescue, proving he is the man for the big occasion.

ST: Sead Hadzibulic (Tampines Rovers)


Considering he only joined Tampines after the mid-season break, many would argue Hadzibulic did not do enough to warrant a place in our Team of the Season.

However, he arrived just at the time when the Stags looked like they were beginning to stutter in the title race, and the five goals he scored in his first three games got them back on the right track.

The Serbian's presence also drew plenty of attention away from Duric and helped the veteran grab his fair share of goals, and Hadzibulic ended the campaign with eight of his own - a decent haul for half a season.

Honourable mentions: Jozef Kaplan (Geylang United), Frederic Mendy (Home United), Takaya Kawanabe (Tanjong Pagar United), Moon Soon-ho (Woodlands Wellington)

Coach: Nenad Bacina (Hougang United)


There were many coaches who deserved to be recognised for their achievements in 2012, including Darren Stewart for leading Balestier from the wrong end of the table to a top-six finish, as well as Vjeran Simunic, who led DPMM to victory in the League Cup as well as a creditable runners-up finish in the league.

Harimau Muda's Ong Kim Swee and Gombak's K. Balagumaran also deserve plenty of credit for the work they've done with their young squads, but we've decided to go for Nenad Bacina, despite Hougang's 8th-placed finish.

Despite one of the smallest budgets in the league and a small squad to work with, the Croat was insistent on getting his charges to play an exciting, attacking brand of football, and while it failed on several occasions, it was extremely rewarding when the plan worked to perfection.

Bacina was also unafraid to put his faith in the likes of Fazly Hasan, Hasree Zais and Syaqir Sulaiman and as a result, they have all established themselves as genuine quality players of the S.League.

Honourable mentions: Darren Stewart (Balestier Khalsa), Vjeran Simunic (DPMM FC), Ong Kim Swee (Harimau Muda), K. Balagumaran (Gombak United)

Substitutes

Many people believe a team is only as strong as the players they have in reserve, which is why we've picked seven players who feel are not just capable of having an impact off the bench, but are also good enough to play from the start.

In goal, Lionel Lewis narrowly pips Takuma Ito to the second goalkeeper berth given he's had one of his best campaigns in recent years, even if it was ultimately ruined by injury.

Like Cunningham, Norihiro Kawakami is another defender who is more than capable of being a threat when going forward, and will add plenty of influence and experience to the side, while teenage prodigy Nurullah Hussein was unlucky not to make our starting XI after an outstanding year as Gombak United's first-choice left-back.

Like Nurullah, another youngster that really stepped up this year was Courts Young Lions skipper Hafiz Abu Sujad, who was not fazed by having to play out of position in defence for much of the season. His versatility makes him a perfect option to have in reserve.

Jamil Ali was another one that probably would have been in many people's starting XIs, but given the sheer impact he had coming off the bench, we've gone with him as our designated 'super-sub'.

Up front, Jozef Kaplan's 16-goal haul, despite him not playing as an out-and-out striker, made it impossible to exclude him, while Yasuhiro Yamakoshi also gets the nod after he proved himself as arguably the league's best finisher, capable of finding the back of the net both inside and outside the box.

GK: Lionel Lewis (Home United)
CB: Norihiro Kawakami (Albirex Niigata)
FB: Nurullah Hussein (Gombak United)
CM: Hafiz Abu Sujad (Courts Young Lions)
WG: Jamil Ali (Tampines Rovers)
FW: Jozef Kaplan (Geylang United)
ST: Yasuhiro Yamakoshi (Albirex Niigata)



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