WCQ/ACQ PREVIEW: Singapore vs Afghanistan

Squad Selection

Singapore‘s squad for the upcoming WCQ/ACQ qualifiers has been announced by the Football Association of Singapore (FAS).

Goalkeepers: Hassan Sunny (Army United), Izwan Mahbud (LionsXII), Zaiful Nizam (Balestier Khalsa)

Defenders: Faritz Hameed, Madhu Mohana, Shakir Hamzah, Hafiz Sujad (LionsXII), Baihakki Khaizan (JDT II), Amirul Adli (Courts Young Lions), Shaiful Esah (Tampines Rovers)

Midfielders: Nazrul Nazari, Safuwan Baharudin, Izzdin Shafiq, Zulfahmi Arifin, Faris Ramli, Christopher van Huizen (LionsXII), Yasir Hanapi (Home Utd), Anumanthan Mohan Kumar (Courts Young Lions), Hariss Harun (JDT)

Forwards: Khairul Nizam, Khairul Amri, Sahil Suhaimi (LionsXII), Shahril Ishak (JDT II), Fazrul Nawaz (Warriors FC)

Suspended Players

Inspirational captain, Hariss Harun and midfield talisman Safuwan Baharudin will not be available for the earlier game against Afghanistan as both are suspended for 1 match after accumulating yellow cards from the 4-0 win against Cambodia (A) and 1-0 defeat by Syria (A).

This comes as a big blow to the team as both of them are key players in the national set-up, with Hariss being instrumental in his club Johor Darul Takzim’s Malaysia Super League winning campaign, and with Safuwan on a hot goalscoring streak with 13 goals this year, so far.

The new boys

Meanwhile, winger Christopher van Huizen, earns his first call-up for the National Team, as a reward for his good form for the LionsXII. The 23 year old received his break into professional football through a local reality show, The First XI and has not looked back since, with 3 assists in his last 4 games in the Malaysia Cup.
Van Huizen’s pinpoint crossing is fast becoming a feature of his game, with many (including Fandi) applauding the above assist (2:38) two weeks ago.
Courts Young Lions’ Amirul Adli and Anumanthan Mohan Kumar who have been influential in the resurgence of the CYL also receive recalls into the squad.

Opposition Watch: Afghanistan’s latest results
Afghanistan 0 Syria 6
 Cambodia 0 Afghanistan 1
Afghanistan 0 Japan 6
The latest FIFA rankings (1 Oct 2015) puts our opponents at 150th, down 20 positions from September. This comes as no surprise, after their poor results in qualification, with heavy defeats against Syria and Japan, and a scrappy 1-0 win over minnows Cambodia. They also lost 2-0 in a friendly against Thailand.
The Lions of Khorasan have conceded a total of 12 goals and only managed to score 1. The Lions of Singapore on the other hand, have conceded only 1 goal and have put in 4, albeit all 4 were against Cambodia.

Opposition Watch: Key players
Afghanistan’s starting line-up has varied over the 3 games, suggesting that head coach Slaven Skeledzic is still unsure of what works best for his team. The Lions though, should keep an eye on the following key players:
1)Djelaludin Sharityar (Defender)
 The 32 year old veteran is the captain and most senior member of the team. He has spent time playing for lower tier clubs in Germany before settling down in Bahrain. The Afghans will look to his experience to organize the defence and play the ball out to the midfield.
2)Mustafa Zazai (Midfielder)
 Of all the players in the squad, I would single out Mustafa Zazai as the bright spark of the team. Primarily operating from the left side of midfield, Mustafa always looks to cut inwards before unleashing a shot or playing a team mate through with his preferred right foot. The Afghans are always looking to get the ball to him and he is well supported by his left back high up the pitch. He is also the one to score their only goal in the campaign so far. He dons the number 17, so look out for him!
3)Norlla Amiri (Midfielder)
 Norlla plies his trade in the second tier of Swedish football with Trelleborgs FF. He could be the wild card of the team, after he made an immediate impact coming on as a late sub against Cambodia, being heavily involved in their winning goal.

Opinions on the game
Although Afghanistan are still ranked higher than Singapore (157th), all other things considered, Singapore should be the better team coming into this game. However, the suspension of two key players does raise some doubts.
Safuwan’s knack of scoring important goals and ability to win aerial battles defensively or offensively, will be missed, but it is worth remembering that the team that stood resolute against Japan in Saitama, was without the former Melbourne City man.
Izzdin Shafiq will have to step up and pull the strings from midfield. (cr: straitstimes.com)
In recent matches, Singapore head coach Bernd Stange has opted for a midfield core of Hariss, Safuwan and Izzdin Shafiq. Apart from Zulfahmi Arifin who replaced Safuwan in Japan, the squad looks notably thin in this department.
Without the likes of Shahdan Sulaiman and Firdaus Kasman, the only other natural central midfielder in the squad is Anumanthan, who is relatively unproven at international level. Nonetheless, Anumanthan’s industrious style of play could fill the void left by Hariss.
The suspensions could call for a tactical reshuffle that would most likely see Izzdin and Zulfahmi partner up in midfield, in front of an unchanged back line consisting of Nazrul, Madhu, Baihakki and Shaiful.
Right back Nazrul Nazari could be in for a field day as Afghanistan have a tendency to attack from their left. (cr: fourfourtwo.com)
Afghanistan’s attacking minded full backs could tempt Stange into fielding a pacey wide man like Faris Ramli to exploit the space available, while Khairul Amri is almost certain to lead the line for the Lions.
Overall, the Afghans aren’t exactly a team that’s comfortable on the ball, with at least 3 of the goals they conceded resulting from inability to play the ball out of defence. After being on the back foot against Syria and Japan, I would love for us to press higher this time round and have a more attacking approach against a defence that is not devoid of errors.

Words from the gaffer
Coach Bernd Stange sums it up in these words:
“We will continue to play our way of football and our players will have to step up,” he said. “With passion, commitment and determination, we will try to overcome the absence of Hariss and Safuwan – two of our top players – for the Afghanistan match.
“This is a young team but I am confident in these boys. We have to fight from the first till very last minute against Afghanistan and we need to give our very best. If we do so and together with our fans, there will only be one winner – and that is us.”

If you can’t make it to the National Stadium on 8th Oct, you can catch the game (and the next) live on Eleven Sports Network (Singtel TV channel 109).
And if you plan to head to the stadium but have not purchased your tickets yet, you can get them at 

You can read more about why we should get behind Singapore’s WCQ campaign here

Aziz Azhar
Aimless vagabond by day, second coming of Fandi Ahmad by Sunday evening.


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