Report card: Lions’ AFF Suzuki Cup Group Stage

The Lions got off to a flyer with a 3-0 win over Malaysia. (Photo courtesy of FAS)The Lions got off to a flyer with a 3-0 win over Malaysia. (Photo courtesy of FAS)

COMMENT

As the Lions prepare for the first Leg of the 2012 AFF Suzuki Cup semi-final against the Philippines this Saturday, it is time to reflect on the Group Stages and summarise the Lions' performances in the below report card.

Singapore had of course topped Group A of the competition (on goal difference), with six points from two wins. In the process, the team had scored seven goals, conceding four.

Raddy Avramovic (Coach)

Grade: A-

So far, Raddy has gotten most of the major decision correct for Singapore.

In the opening match against Malaysia, his tactics were spot on, nullifying the Malaysian midfield engine room, as highlighted previously.

Against Laos, he was decisive enough to make two substitutions with minutes to go in the first half, when the Lions were playing poorly and losing 2-0. His substitutions almost instantly rejuvenated the team as they scored just before half-time before totally dominating the second half of that match to seal qualification as group winners.

Both victories had highlighted Raddy's tactical acumen. He had also proved that he is willing to go for broke when times are not going right and against Laos, it worked out perfectly.

His decision to use 42-year-old Aleksandar Duric sparingly in the first two games proved to be a good one, as Singapore eventually had to rely on Duric to lead the line in the final of the three Group matches.

With respect to set-pieces, the team generally appears well-drilled in defence. As an attacking avenue, three of the seven goals scored had been direct results of various set-pieces — highlighting how good our set-pieces are.

The only blip in the Group Stage is the 1-0 loss to the Indonesians. The Lions did not play particularly poorly in that match and were very unlucky. The only gripe was probably the drop in tempo towards the tail-end of that match which allowed the Indonesians to score that late winning goal.

Top Three Players

Shahril Ishak

Minutes Played:            253

Goals: 4

Grade: A+

It has been quite a scintillating tournament for Lions' captain Shahril Ishak thus far. He is currently the tournament's leading scorer with four goals - two each against Malaysia and Laos.

He has managed to live up to his tag as one of the best attacking players in the region. What he may lack in sheer speed, Shahril can more than make up for with his immaculate control and nifty footwork.

2012 can turn out to be a very special year for Shahril. The 28-year-old had already captained the LionsXII to a respectable second-place finish in the Malaysia Super and was the leading goal-scorer for the team.

Furthermore, he earned his 100th cap for the country against Laos, to join legends like Daniel Bennett and Aide Iskandar.

Leading his country to the Suzuki Cup trophy will make 2012 a truly unforgettable one for Shahril.

Mustafic Fahrudin

Minutes Played: 270

Grade: A

Mr Consistent Mustafic is one of the five Lions to have played every minute of every game so far in the competition.

The naturalised Singaporean is enjoying a flawless tournament so far with his authoritative performance in the middle of the park.

Against Malaysia, Mustafic sat deeper in midfield to operate mainly as a ball-winner and destroyer together with Hariss Harun. Even after losing to Hariss to injury, Mustafic held his own well. Against Laos, he was given more space to roam and he was instrumental in linking up play for the Lions as they poured forward in numbers.

Mustafic will again be very crucial against the Filipinos, who have the luxury of fielding a very strong midfield with players of European physique.

Khairul Amri

Minutes Played: 212

Goals: 1

Grade: A-

2012 has been a topsy-turvy year for Amri, but this tournament had been kind to the 27-year-old so far.

Having missed the first half of the year because of various injuries, he slowly built his fitness back with the LionsXII. By the tail-end of the Malaysian domestic season, he had managed to establish himself as a key player to the team and contributed several important goals.

Amri lasted the entire 90 minutes against the Malaysians in the opening game and showed little signs of lacking match fitness as he kept pace with the match.

Against Laos, he came off the bench to deliver a peach of a freekick from 30 metres to turn the match for Singapore. That freekick is worthy of winning any match at any level and Amri deserves a lot of praise of his calmness and technique.

Needs Improvement

Qiu Li

Minutes Played: 58

Grade: C

The 31-year-old has seen better days but the current tournament may have confirmed that his best days are now all but over.

Earlier in the year, Qiu Li made headlines for the wrong reason when he required several attempts to pass the mandatory S-League 'Beep Test'. His form for Home United throughout the season was indifferent but he managed to make the final squad for Singapore nonetheless.

He was a surprise starter against Laos and was selected by Raddy to operate on the left-wing. However, for all of the time which he was on the pitch, he showed to possess neither the pace nor the tenacity to beat any opposition full-backs.

He was so ineffectual that Raddy took him out with minutes left to go in the first half.

Qiu Li may still be a useful player for set-pieces delivery, but with Shahdan Sulaiman and Shaiful Esah, he may be a slight surplus to requirements.

Irwan Shah

Minutes Played: 87

Red Cards: 1

Grade: C-

24-year-old Irwan had enjoyed a good season with the LionsXII coming into the tournament. The diminutive player had proved his versatility as he chalked up appearances as a full-back or winger on either channel.

And when regular left-back Esah hurt himself against the Malaysians in the opening game, Irwan had the perfect opportunity to go out and prove that he can as good a player for the national team.

However, against Indonesia, he earned himself two rather unnecessary bookings which resulted in his sending off and subsequent suspension. Whether it was nerves or just a rush of blood to the head will be a question only Irwan can answer, but it is clear that his lack of composure cost Singapore the game against Indonesia, at least partially.

With Esah now back to fitness, we can expect Irwan's participation in this tournament to be further curtailed, despite having served his suspension.

Isa Halim

Minutes Played: 22

Grade: N/A

It is more of a "curious case of Isa Halim".

Isa had been the lynchpin of the LionsXII side in 2012 as a defensive midfielder just in front of the back four. He played his heart out for the team throughout the season and was one of the most consistent LionsXII performers. He is always one of the first names in the Sundram's LionsXII's team sheet.

When Isa was omitted the first game against the Malaysians, I thought it was tactical move to play both Hariss and Mustafic in the middle of the park. The biggest surprise came when even after losing Hariss to injury, Isa had not been fully utilised as a straight replacement.

Isa had only seen 22 minutes of action so far, as a replacement for Fazrul Nawaz against Laos. It would not be fair to grade him based on a cameo appearance.

With midfielder Shi Jiayi slated to miss the first leg of the Semi-final in Manila (due to personal emergency), perhaps time is now for Isa Halim to establish his place in the national team for this competition.