As we reach the halfway mark of our team previews for AFF Suzuki Cup 2018, FOX Sports Asia football editor Gabriel Tan casts his eye next on four-time champions Singapore.
There is no denying that Singapore have a rich history in Southeast Asian football, but they have had to endure some trying times recently.
Having equalled Thailand’s record of four ASEAN crowns with their AFF Suzuki Cup triumph just six years ago, the Lions have since seen their rivals surge ahead with successes in 2014 and 2016 while they have failed to even reach the knockout stage.
There has been a surge of optimism with the appointment of Fandi Ahmad – the country’s favourite footballing son – as national team coach earlier this year, and Singapore have won three of the four matches he has been in charge of, even if they have come against Fiji, Mongolia and Cambodia.
But, with the stakes higher at AFF Suzuki Cup 2018, can Fandi help the Lions return to past glories?
November 9: Singapore v Indonesia (National Stadium, Singapore)
November 13: Philippines v Singapore (Panaad Stadium, Bacolod)
November 21: Singapore v Timor-Leste (National Stadium, Singapore)
November 25: Thailand v Singapore (Rajamangala Stadium, Bangkok)
Since their maiden triumph at the 1998 Tiger Cup – as the competition was known then – Singapore have regularly been challengers for top honours in the region’s premier international tournament.
Under Serb Radojko Avramovic, the Lions notched further titles in 2004, 2007 and 2012 – the last of which coming after a memorable 3-2 aggregate win in the final against hot favourites Thailand.
Nonetheless, 2014 saw them meekly give up the crown as they failed to progress to the last four on home soil, before they finished bottom of their group in Philippines two years ago.
ONE GAME NOT TO MISS
As the two most successful nations in Suzuki Cup history, matches between Thailand and Singapore never have any shortage of drama and excitement and that should be the case at the Rajamangala Stadium on November 25.
The Singaporeans have shown in the past that they are never intimidated playing in hostile atmospheres away from home, so a trip to Bangkok on the final match day should be no different.
The only worry is whether or not they will still have anything to play for by then, with tough tests against Indonesia and Philippines to come before.
Hassan Sunny – Although he spent the past season playing in the second tier of Thai football, Hassan arguably remains the region’s best goalkeeper (along with Belgium-based Thai Kawin Thamsatchanan). Even in the past two editions, the powerfully-built custodian at times singlehandedly kept his side in the game, and he should be a crucial player once more.
Hariss Harun – Still only 27, Hariss is already one of Southeast Asia’s most-decorated players with a Suzuki Cup crown to his name from 2012, as well as having won an AFC Cup and six consecutive Malaysia Super League titles at club level. With all his experience and his never-say-die attitude, the Johor Darul Ta’zim midfielder will be doing everything to win the midfield battle for Singapore.
Faris Ramli – It is quite curious that Faris continues to fly under the radar given how the talk of the town has centred on the resurgence of the evergreen Shahril Ishak, as well as the emergence of Ikhsan Fandi. In his first season as a foreigner and playing primarily as a winger, Faris netted nine goals for PKNS FC in all competition and was one of the success stories in the first year of the Malaysia Super League’s ASEAN import ruling.
Following their decline in recent times, few are expecting Singapore to be one of the contenders in 2018.
However, they have made a habit of upsetting the odds in the past and these are Lions who look to be enjoying their football once again.
Fandi wants to play attacking football and whether or not they will come undone against some of the better teams in the competition remains to be seen, but the situation certainly is not one of doom and gloom that some are suggesting.