SINGAPORE — Singapore national football team head coach Takayuki Nishigaya is set to lead the Lions at the National Stadium, Singapore Sports Hub for the first time since taking over the reins in May last year. The 158th ranked team will play two friendlies against Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands on Jun 15 and June 18 respectively, with both matches starting at 7.30pm.
Papua New Guinea is one rank below the Lions, while the Solomon Islands are in a higher position at 134. In their previous encounters, Singapore beat Papua New Guinea 2-1 in 2014, and won 4-3 against the Solomon Islands in 2019. Not much is known about Singapore’s opponents. But the Solomon Islands have recalled European-based player Raphael Lea’i to the squad. He is the first Solomon Islands player to sign with a professional European club, and is currently playing in the Bosnian Premier League with FK Velez Mostar.
The Lions were in action earlier this year playing two away friendlies in March. They were held to a 1-1 draw by Hong Kong and won 1-0 against Macau. Singapore last played at the National Stadium in March 2022 when they hosted the Tri-Nation Series, winning 2-1 and 2-0 against Malaysia and the Philippines respectively.
Confidence in local football may have taken a hit following the national team’s exit from the 2022 AFF Championship, as well as the poor performance of the Young Lions at the recent SEA Games in Cambodia. Now, with the Football Association of Singapore arranging two friendly matches against less-fancied national teams, the question arises: will fans turn up to support the Lions at the 55,000 capacity National Stadium?
While there will undoubtedly be pockets of die-hard Singapore football fans who continue to buy tickets to these matches as a show of support for the players and the national team, it remains to be seen whether the broader public will follow suit. But ultimately what does coach Nishigaya hope to achieve in these two matches?
In an interview posted on FAS website, the head coach said, “..there are no easy games at international level and my challenge to the players was to improve daily and to put in a consistent level of performance back in the Singapore Premier League to fight for their places in the National Team. We need to have strong competition for places in the National Team as that is one way for us to improve.”
Coach Nishigaya added, “This June window also gives me the opportunity to see up close some new faces in the national team environment, and hence I have also called up the five new debutantes. This can only be good for the future of the national team in the long run.”
The Singapore national team head coach has named five new players in his 26-man squad, they are Balestier Khalsa goalkeeper Hairul Syirhan, Hougang United defender Jordan Vestering, Tanjong Pagar United midfielders Fathullah Rahmat and Naqiuddin Eunos, and Young Lions captain Harhys Stewart. Among the regular faces who are called back to the squad are Hariss Harun, Shah Shahiran, Shakir Hamzah, Adam Swandi, Amy Recha, and Shawal Anuar, all missed out for the Hong Kong and Macau trip earlier in the year.
The players will report for centralised training on Monday, June 12 as they prepare to take on the two teams later in the week. Coach Nishigaya expects a more robust game and physical game as he has analyse videos of both teams.
“Their players have individual power and speed, and we will need to be prepared to counter that. It is always good for our team to be exposed to different styles of play and these two opponents will offer us a good test,” added coach Nishigaya.
While there may be criticism and one may wonder whether Singapore will benefit by playing against these team, in the words of Senior Parliamentary Secretary Eric Chua, let us “not only trust the process, but to also participate in it so that Singapore’s football will be able to ‘Unleash the Roar.’” So let the Lions roam free and show their strength on the field next week at the National Stadium, and deliver the results that our local football fans want.
Below is the Singapore national football team squad for the friendly matches against Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.
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