Lions star Isa Halim’s plea to fans: Give us a chance

From left to right: Isa Halim, Sheryl Wong (General Manager of PUMA Singapore) and Lionel Lewis.From left to right: Isa Halim, Sheryl Wong (General Manager of PUMA Singapore) and Lionel Lewis.

Don't write us off just yet.

That is Singapore midfielder Isa Halim's plea to fans as the Lions prepare for the year-end AFF Suzuki Cup to be co-hosted in Malaysia and Thailand.

Desperate to make amends for their disappointing group stage exit from the competition in 2010, the 26-year-old LionsXII star admits the three-time champions can no longer be considered one of the tournament favourites.

But he hopes the fans will get behind them when they kick-off their Group B campaign against causeway rivals and defending champions Malaysia, Indonesia and a third as yet unknown qualifier.

Regional powerhouses and co-host Thailand, Vietnam and Philippines are in Group A for the month-long tournament from 24 November to 22 December.

"We don't count ourselves as favourites in the tournament anymore," Halim told Yahoo! Singapore during the launch of PUMA's new pop-up store outside Raffles City on Tuesday.

"But it might be a good thing because it takes off a lot of pressure from us. This year has not been great for us and our performances have not been up to standard. But I'm sure we can do well in the tournament. We are a young team. I hope the fans can give us a chance and hopefully we can bring home the AFF Suzuki Cup."

Singapore's preparations for the tournament got off to the worst possible start when they fell to a shock 2-0 defeat to Philippines in a friendly last Friday. On Tuesday, they were held to a 1-1 draw by Myanmar.

Singapore's world standing has also plunged to a lowly 161st place in the latest FIFA rankings.

Despite the setbacks, Halim insists the Lions do not lack hunger.

The former Home United midfielder, who has been capped 22 times, said, "There is a mixture of young and old players and there is hunger in the team. The younger players are coming in and fighting for places which pushes the senior players to perform even better."

Asked who he thinks are the favourites for the biennial Southeast Asia football championship, Halim believes it will be the usual suspects — although he expects a few surprises.

He said, "It will be the main powerhouses like Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand fighting for the title. But I feel there will be a few surprises in Philippines and even Myanmar."

While the pressure is on the players to perform on the pitch, Halim believes the upcoming AFF Suzuki Cup could determine the fate of national coach Raddy Abramovich, who has been in charge since 2003.

"He has done well so far. And although I am in no position to comment on his future, this tournament will be crucial in whether he will stay on," he added.