Is this Singapore’s best line-up right now?

A pretty good start to qualifying for the 2018 World Cup and 2019 Asian Cup continued with a fortunate home victory against Afghanistan. The Lions will hope to do the double over Cambodia, having already beaten the Cambodians 4-0 in the away fixture.

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Singapore will be realistically aiming to beat Syria to the runners-up spot – with Japan the most likely to take first place – and qualify for the third round of World Cup qualifying. The minimum expectations for Singapore must be third spot, where that will guarantee a spot in the third round of Asian Cup qualifying.

With that, here is how we think Singapore should line up for the next two games as well as the foreseeable future.

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The two formations are actually more similar than they look, with only three slight alterations between the line-ups. This would help facilitate the possible use of both formations in a single game, as per required.

Rigidity & Solidity

First off, Singapore can only achieve any success on the international stage with a solid back five or even back six, if you include the defensive midfielder – likely to be LionsXII breakthrough star Izzdin Shafiq. Regardless of either line-up, Izzdin will be deployed just ahead of the back four.

The centre-back pairing has a good mix of experience and youth. The emerging Madhu Mohana, another one of three LionsXII breakthrough stars, dovetails rather well with the experienced figurehead of Baihakki Khaizan, from Malaysia Premier League side Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) II. Madhu’s physique and tackling ability will see him as the mainstay of Singapore’s defence for years to come.

Tampines Rovers left-back Shaiful Esah, another long-serving player for Singapore, may be a little suspect in his defensive work, but more than makes up for it with his dead-ball skill – one of the most potent weapons in Singapore’s armoury. On the opposite flank is the recently-converted right-back Nazrul Nazari, who despite his lack of presence, has the tenacity and pace to cover his centre halves well.

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faritz (9) and nazrul (11): competition for the right-back spot heats up

Behind all of them is probably one of the best three players for Singapore at the moment, goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud. After leading his LionsXII side to Malaysia FA Cup victory, followed by a heroic performance in Saitama against Japan, Izwan has continued his fine form for club and country. As mentioned time and time again, a higher-standard league beckons for Izwan, and one hopes it will be much sooner rather than later.

This current first choice back six, coupled with capable reserves like right-back Faritz Hameed and Shakir Hamzah, must learn to work as a single, compact unit, so as to give the players forward a platform to score the goals necessary to fire Singapore into the next phase of qualifying.

Powerhouse Midfield

The other two of the aforementioned best players of Singapore football right now are most definitely Safuwan Baharudin and Hariss Harun. Both will likely form Singapore’s central midfield and overall core for the next decade, and both have the potential to ply their trades further afar. Hariss, now at Malaysia Super League (MSL) side JDT, is good enough to compete in a second-tier European league, while Safuwan has the potential to do well in the more technical leagues in Australia or Japan.

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cornerstones of this singapore side for years to come

In the second formation, Safuwan could possibly be deployed in an inside left midfield position, narrow enough to bolster the midfield duo while allowing full-back Shaiful further forward and maximise his pinpoint left-footed deliveries. This would allow another attacking midfielder, or forward, to support the main striker.

Exciting young winger Faris Ramli, with all his brimming potential, needs more game-time in order to showcase his skill and talent. Faris’ ability to beat a man and shoot with both feet makes him a significant threat on the right wing. The LionsXII winger can carry the ball forward from deep in his own half, providing Singapore an alternative strategy to merely clearing the ball forward, which easily gives possession back to the opposition.

Faris could receive some competition from fellow winger Gabriel Quak, should the latter add some consistency to his game. This would help phase out the hardworking but unproductive forward-turned-midfielder Fazrul Nawaz.

With regards to the spot held by Shahril Ishak as an inside left forward or No.10, the current Singapore skipper should hold onto his position due to his experience. However, younger and faster upstarts must be gradually phased in soon. The return to fitness of playmaker Shahdan Sulaiman and impending return of young forward Shahfiq Ghani will see Singapore have more options in that position, with both capable of playing as an inside left forward or No.10. Integrating Shahdan and Ghani into the first eleven should ease the gradual phasing out of the current captain of JDT II in the not-so-distant future.

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Lacking in Goalscoring Forwards

Khairul Amri spearheads this team, but this is mostly due to his experience and hardworking nature off the ball. In front of goal, however, Khairul joins a long list of forwards who just aren’t natural goal scorers. Admittedly, a goal every 3.5 international games is a decent tally, but Khairul has never fulfilled the huge potential of his early years and he would have been displaced had Singapore produced a true goalscorer in the mould of Fandi Ahmad.

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can sahil (7), and faris (10), score enough goals for singapore?

Not since naturalised citizen Aleksandar Duric retire in 2014 did Singapore have a proven goalscorer, with his record of almost a goal every two games. Beyond Khairul, there are only inexperienced young contenders like Ghani, Malaysia FA Cup hero Sahil Suhaimi and Fandi’s own son, 18 year old Irfan Fandi.

There was much hope for Ghani, after he scored several key goals for LionsXII in their maiden MSL title win. but recent injuries has plagued Ghani and resulted in a loss in form. Sahil has the ability and pace to be a top-notch centre-forward, but will need to reign in on his cocky attitude, knuckle down and truly show his class on the pitch.

The greatest hope at the moment is that Irfan Fandi will come good, and if he can be half the player his father was, Irfan would have had a spectacular career. His tall physique gives him a considerable advantage in Southeast Asia, while his ability and skill on the ball is as impressive. Much will focus on Irfan’s early career, and the pressure will be on him to replicate his father’s success. However, Irfan needs to be grounded if he is to fulfil his huge potential, and possibly be the man to spearhead Singapore’s attack for the next decade or so.

Do you agree with this line-up? Who deserves to start for Singapore?

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