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Friday, December 25, 2009

New-look SAFFC have an eye on Asia

Sazali Abdul Aziz

The man with the blonde hair looked relaxed, leaning back in his chair as members of the media fired questions at his new head coach sitting beside him. His striking pink track shoes stood out from his team-mates’, and perhaps hinted at the star quality he possesses.

“I like to win,” Niklas Sandberg declared, when asked what he hopes to achieve at his new club. “In the past three years, all the teams I have been in have finished top, and I hope to bring this experience to SAFFC.”

The Swede was one of ten new signings unveiled by S.League champions at Jalan Besar Stadium on Thursday, and is considered an integral part of a new-look SAFFC team which is looking to make an impact not only locally, but in continental competition as well.

Club chairman BG Tung Yui Fai said: “The club have won the S.League title 8 times in fourteen years, and four years in a row. It is an understatement that we are the premier team in the S.League.

“In terms of being the best in the S.League, we have nothing to prove anymore. The target we have set for ourselves now, is to carry the flag for the S.League in the region, in the AFC Champions League (ACL).”

With a renewed focus on the ACL, BG Tung feels that this is reflected in the signings the club has made, with Sandberg arguably the biggest name to sign on in the close season.

The 31-year-old helped CFR Cluj and Stabæk IF to the league championships of Romania and Norway in 2007 and 2008 respectively. He also helped FK Haugesund to the Norwegian second division title earlier this year, and counts his two caps for Sweden earned in January 2007 as one of his proudest achievements.

“I’ve played professional football for many years in Europe – 13 years – and I’m looking for a new challenge, a new adventure. Money is not so important for me right now, I took a big pay cut to join the team,” he explained.

Sandberg has been to Singapore three times since visiting the country on a training tour with AIK Stockholm in 1997, and says the humidity here is a big challenge for him. He is confident though, that he has what it takes to settle in. “In Romania, I played in 40 °C, and then one month later it was -10 °C, so I hope I can adapt,” he smiled.

Uruguayan striker Federico Martínez has also joined from Brazilian Série C side Cabofriense. The rangy attacker laughed – perhaps out of nervousness – after being told that he was brought in to replace three-time defending S.League top-scorer Aleksandar Duric.

“That’s why the job is harder,” he said. “I have to show my fellow players that I can be a good striker, but it is a very hard job to fill the shoes of a great striker.”

Bok though, has no worries about his new signings, and has been impressed with what he has seen so far. He has even likened Martínez to a former SAFFC great: “The thing about Rico is that he can create goals by himself, like Mirko (former striker Mirko Grabovac).”

“I knew he was good in the air, but when we started to do ballwork in training, man, he can shoot. Left foot, right foot, he can take shots well, and this is the type of striker I like,” gushed Bok.

Sandberg and Martínez are joined by former Albirex Niigata (Singapore) midfielder Taisuke Akiyoshi - who rejected a chance to join Albirex’s J-League squad for a training camp to sign on professional terms with SAFFC – and towering Croatian centre-half Ivan Lovric to make up SAFFC’s new foreign signings.

On the local front, the club have also snared six Singaporean players, including Singapore internationals Indra Sahdan and Noh Rahman. The upcoming season is especially important to striker Indra, who feels he has a point to prove.

“09 wasn’t a good season for me, and I am out to show that I have not become a bad player over the course of one year,” he said. “I still have two or three years of good football left in me, and I want to prove I am not over the hill.”

For the club to qualify for the ACL group stage though, they must first defeat Indonesian champions Sriwijaya on 30 January in the first of two playoff matches. If they manage to overcome the Palembang side, they will face either Vietnamese champions SHB Ðà Nẵng or Thai champions Muang Thong United in the second playoff game.

Head coach Richard Bok will need his new charges to gel quickly, and is hoping a training camp in Vietnam will do the trick. The Warriors will be playing V-League sides Đồng Tâm Long An F.C. and Navibank Saigon on 12th and 15th January, respectively.

Bok also took the opportunity to announce his new team captain “for 2010 and beyond” – goalkeeper Shahril Jantan. Duric had been skippering the team for the last two seasons.

“When choosing a captain, you need someone with leadership. Shahril is someone who works well with both sides – the locals and the foreigners – and he fits the bill well,” explained Bok, who added that Daniel Bennett and John Wilkinson will be the team’s new vice-captains.

Shahril himself was humbled by the appointment, but feels he is up to the task. “I accepted the appointment having already played under two good captains in Noor Ali, who was good at rallying the team, and Aleks, who led with his professionalism.

“I don’t think it will distract me from my job as a goalkeeper, and I hope I can do well for the team as captain.”

SAFFC’s new signings: Rezal Hassan (player/goalkeeper coach) Hyrulnizam Juma’at (Young Lions) Noh Rahman (Sengkang Punggol) Ivan Lovric (Gosk KG, Croatia) Syaiful Iskandar (Woodlands Wellington) Niklas Sandberg (FK Haugesund, Norway) Rhysh Roshan Rai (Balestier Khalsa) Taisuke Akiyoshi (Albirex Niigata, Singapore) Indra Sahdan (Sengkang Punggol) Federico Martínez (Cabofriense, Brazil)

Thursday, July 9, 2009

New coach Satria enjoying academy attachment

Tam Cheong Yan

For seven years, Satria Mad has diligently served Tampines Rovers as a wingback on the playing field, patrolling the right flank with zeal and industry.

This year, the No.4 has found himself taking on an extra role with the Stags, as a coordinator and coach with the club’s youth academy.

The Tampines Rovers Football Club Soccer Academy, as it is formally known, has been part of the club setup since it was formed in 2003, the brainchild of club chairman Teo Hock Seng and goalkeeper coach Lim Chiew Peng.

Now into its seventh year, the academy has grown under the care of the club’s officials, who have from time to time enlisted the help of players to teach the boys football skills.

The newest addition to the coaching panel is Satria, who had earned his AFC ‘C’ Licence in coaching several years ago but never had a chance to put his learning into practical use.

That chance has now come for the 31-year-old, who has been spending Sunday mornings and evenings at the academy’s training field behind Tampines Stadium every week since 1 March.

Working together with staff coaches Narong Saiket and Hyrizan Jufri, as well as volunteers like Yunos Samad and A. Rangasamy, Satria was clearly enjoying his new job when recently paid a visit.

“To tell you the truth, I’m still new to the idea of running an academy,” he said candidly.

“The club management asked me to take over the role this year, to see if I can cope with the work here while playing full-time. I guess it’s the club’s way of looking out for my welfare and my future.

“It has been a big learning experience for me, and one thing I have learnt is that there is a lot of work to do and a lot of sacrifices to be made running an academy. If doing a relatively small project like this takes so much work, imagine running a whole club office!

“Luckily this academy has many veterans running it for the last six years, all of them dedicated to developing youngsters. You never know, maybe out of the 100 or so boys, you may discover one Fandi Ahmad.

“Never mind one Fandi Ahmad, it is not easy to find one Aliff!” he then joked, referring to teammate Aliff Shafaein, the diminutive forward dubbed “The Little Master” for his outstanding on-the-ball technique.

“We get lots of Aliffs in terms of size. Now, we are hoping to find and develop an Aliff in terms of talent!”

Unearthing somebody of Aliff’s calibre may take a while yet, but the academy has not fared too badly in its time, having produced two Singaporean representatives in the ongoing Asian Youth Games in Jeffrey Lightfoot and Adri Adnan.

Having seen the other coaches nurture such bright talents, Satria knows the academy has set itself some high standards to live up to, particularly among parents who may have high expectations.

Fortunately for the newcomer, the pressure has not been on him as he continues to find his feet working with the younger boys.

“I’ve had some feedback about my work, both the good and not-so-good,” he said when asked about how parents have responded to his coaching.

“As a professional player, I’ve to learn to talk to the children at their level. But I think the club sees me as someone who is quite vocal and who can mix with kids, so they put me in charge of the Under-8 and Under-10 groups while the veterans work with the older boys.

“The easy thing about working with kids is they listen, and they like to listen. But their attention span is very short, so you have to keep repeating yourself and be patient.

“So far, I’m happy that the academy is doing well. It has been an enriching experience, and when you see the kids doing what you have taught them to do, you can feel a great sense of satisfaction.”

Apart from putting the boys through weekly training sessions, the academy also organizes its own tournaments and sends teams to take part in competitions held by other organizations, such as Northeast CDC and Singapore Cricket Club.

Boys who do not get to feature in these tournaments can also have their chance to play in specially-organized friendly matches with other football academies, thus ensuring that all of them can enjoy themselves.

The academy’s good work has drawn positive feedback from many participants’ parents, including systems analyst Allan Umandap.

The 32-year-old Filipino, who has been working in Singapore for the last three years, enrolled his 12-year-old son Whilce into the programme in June this year after the boy had learnt of the programmes from his schoolmates at Tampines North Primary School.

Mr. Umandap was visibly pleased as he watched Whilce, who plays for his school, mix comfortably with the 80 or so other boys despite being one of the newer faces at the academy.

“My son picked up football after he came to Singapore, and I thought that since he likes the sport, I’ll support his wish to come here,” he told

“I’m very happy to see him play with the kids here, and I can see he’s enjoying it. That’s really important.

“Actually, he’s always been telling me that he wants to train hard here, so that when he goes back he can play for the Philippines. The training here is better than what we can find back home, and if he does well, he can find opportunities when he goes to college.”

Like Mr. Umandap, technician Mok Kar Loon and his wife spend most Sunday mornings following the training sessions held by the academy.

Their 9-year-old son Shao Yang had completed the first three-month term this year, which was held from March, and has gone on to enroll for a second term.

“My son likes the sport; he’s started watching football since he was five,” revealed Mr. Mok.

“I then found out about this academy when I was surfing the Internet. I decided to have a look at the programme, and I found that it was better than what I initially expected.

“My son was shy about joining at first, but he enjoyed it very much, so we signed him for a second term. He even wanted to pay the registration fees himself instead of letting us pay for him!

“He’s now more outspoken when he is playing, and I can see he’s learnt to make more friends and work with people better. He’s also learnt to read the game better when I bring him to watch games, mostly over here when we watch Tampines Rovers.”

Mr. Mok is not the only parent who has brought his child to Tampines Stadium on S.League matchdays, as has learnt. And that can only be good news for Tampines, who enjoy one of the highest average home attendances in the league.

The support from people who participate in the club’s programmes is an important part of the club’s wider plan to increase awareness of and interest in the Stags, as Narong, who also works with the club’s Centre of Excellence, explained.

“The Chairman hopes that, through the academy, we can also promote our team to the children and their parents,” he said.

“We make passes for the children who join the academy so they can come to our S.League matches. When the children want to come, their parents will bring them to the matches, so the parents are also here to watch us.”

“I’ve never taken business management courses when I was in school, but I’ve learnt things like this through working in the academy,” added Satria.

“As players, we used to ask a lot about our pay and our bonuses, but we never knew where all the money or all the fans came from. Now, as a part of the academy, I have come to appreciate what the club is doing not just for the future, but also for us.”

For more information on the Tampines Rovers FC Soccer Academy, please click here.

Tampines Soccer Academy’s boys will feature in a friendly match on 10 July at Jalan Besar Stadium, where they will play against a Global Football Academy team coached by Satria’s teammate Akihiro Nakamura.

Don’t miss the kids in action in the match, which will be a curtain-raiser to the Stags’ highly-anticipated Great Eastern-YEO’S S.League match with Bruneian side DPMM FC

SAFFC vs Gombak United [4-1]

Warriors toil to overwhelm Gombak

Gary Koh

Defending S.League champions Singapore Armed Forces (SAFFC) widened the gap between themselves and the chasing pack at the top when they capitalized on home ground advantage and defensive mistakes to defeat second-placed Gombak United 4-1 at Choa Chu Kang on Tuesday evening.

A second-half brace from skipper Aleksandar Duric, added to earlier goals from John Wilkinson and Park Tae Won, put the Warriors in the driving seat before Thai midfielder Theerawekin Seehawong reduced the deficit late on.

The win put the home side eight points clear at the summit and avenged a 3-1 reverse at Jurong West earlier this season, while Duric pulled away in the goalscorers chart to claim outright leadership at 16 league goals so far.

SAFFC came into the match with several players carrying injuries and knocks. Mustaqim Manzur (concussion) remained sidelined while Thai veteran Therdsak Chaiman (shoulder separation) and Ahmad Latiff Khamarudin (hamstring) were only fit enough to make the bench.

Without regular wingers Mustaqim and Latiff, rightback Hafiz Osman was pushed up into the role as coach Richard Bok fielded a 4-1-4-1 formation to contain their opponents’ powerful attacking line.

After losing 1-2 to Woodlands Wellington at home over the weekend, Gombak coach Darren Stewart rang in several changes to the starting eleven.

Australian midfielder Goran Subara was omitted from the matchday squad and Nigerian forward Ojimi Gabriel Obatola, who was level with Duric on 14 goals in the top scorers chart before the game, was benched after suffering from a personal goal drought.

Bah Mamadou returned to central defence alongside captain Sevki Sha’ban while Emmanuel Emuejeraye slotted in at right wing.

The home side did not have the best of starts on the heavy pitch as they struggled to impose themselves in the game, and were put under constant pressure from the visitors.

They resorted to direct balls that often went straight back to a red shirt and struggled to control and retain possession.

Despite their initial troubles, the Warriors took the lead in the 17th minute from their first coherent attacking move of the game.

After stretching the Gombak defence from both sides, Wilkinson pounced at the semi-circle to unleash a thunderbolt straight into the top corner.

Bulls goalkeeper Fadhil Salim had to be alert to keep the score at 1-0 midway through the first half, when he had to use his legs to clear Shaiful Esah’s free kick on the right off the line.

At the other end, the visitors continued to pile the pressure as they searched for the equalizer. But either last-minute interceptions or poor finishing from the forwards prevented them from threatening Shahril Jantan’s goal.

The closest they came to pulling level was on 37 minutes, when Nigerian forward Kingsley Njoku sent an Agu Casmir low cross on the side netting with the empty goal at its mercy.

They were undone five minutes before half-time when a calamitous mix-up among their defenders allowed Park to tap in a deflected Duric shot at close range and make it 2-0.

Stewart sent on Fazrul Nawaz in place of Fazli Jaffar after the interval as Gombak tried to retrieve something from the game.

However there was nothing Fazrul could do to help his colleagues when the visitors went three goals down seven minutes after the restart.

Another breakdown in communications within the defence allowed Duric to jog into the six-yard box unmarked and tap home the loose ball for his 15th league goal of the season.

The veteran forward nearly doubled his tally just after the hour, when his shot off a Hafiz low cross on the right went just wide.

SAFFC were now in command of the proceedings after their labour to go three goals ahead, as they held off the increasingly desperate attempts from their fellow title challengers.

They eventually sealed three points at 4-0 with 13 minutes left when their captain scored off a Park assist, following a quick counter from Hafiz on the right after robbing Gombak leftback Hamqaamal Shah of the ball.

After numerous fruitless attempts to score past Shahril, Theerawekin provided some consolation for the visitors who suffered their second consecutive league defeat when his 35-metre piledriver was deflected into the net three minutes from time.

Bok was delighted with his side’s continued winning streak as they increased their lead at the top of the table.

“The team play, team spirit, hunger and desire, all of them are slowly coming back,” he beamed.

“It was a good effort from the boys and they played simple and to instructions.

“It took a while to settle as Gombak are a tough and physical team, but we showed we are up for it this time round.

“Some of the play we had was good, we displayed nice play and great flow during the game, and hopefully we can keep it up.”

Meanwhile, Stewart felt his team were hard done by with the score but believed the long break ahead would help them overcome the trauma of two straight losses.

“I don’t think we deserve to lose 1-4, let alone go down 0-2 at half-time as the goals then came against the run of play,” lamented the Australian.

“I could not fault the boys, the chances they had and the effort they put in was fantastic though.

“I do not dwell on the decisions made and we cannot look back as what was past was past.

“The only good thing we have now is the 12 days’ break before our next game. This will give us some time to reorganize and regroup.

“The boys will not need much picking up after the losses. They are strong characters and good lads and it will not take long to make them bounce back.”

Woodlands Wellington vs Home United [2-1]

Rams continue rise with Home scalp

Paul Green

Woodlands Wellington are beginning to make their move towards the top half of the Great Eastern-YEO’S S.League ladder, and they are doing it at the expense of teams like Home United, whom they defeated 2-1 at Woodlands Stadium on Tuesday night.

The Rams recorded their second win in a row, following their sensational 2-1 result over Gombak United the previous Saturday, and they put a real dent in the Protectors’ hopes of figuring among the top three or four teams again this season with this sound victory.

Any fears that a depleted Woodlands side might struggle against an experienced Home outfit were quelled as early as the 15th minute, when Singapore defender Precious Emuejeraye fired in a free kick that beat goalkeeper Lionel Lewis all ends up.

The Rams had lost captain Azlan Alipah to an injury sustained during the warm-up, and were already without the injured Hasrin Jailani, plus the suspended pairing of Luis Eduardo Hicks and Syaiful Iskandar.

While it must be mentioned that Protectors midfielder Shahril Ishak also had to pull out of the squad after a mishap during the warm-up, the visitors were really only missing Peres de Oliveira from their best possible lineup, according to their coach PN Sivaji.

“Our first half was very poor,” he said after the game.

“They were much quicker to the ball than we were and there were far too many individuals out there and not enough team work, though, to their credit, the players came back strongly in the second half and I could not fault their effort then.”

But by that stage the damage had been done.

Adding to the brilliantly-struck free kick from Precious 25 yards out, after a ‘silly foul’ had been given away in Sivaji’s words, Woodlands scored a second goal on the half-hour.

Iranian forward Mojtaba Tehranizadeh proved a real handful for the heavily-manned Home United defence throughout the first 45 minutes.

Several moves he was involved in had already led to some narrow misses, before he waltzed through on the right and gave Lewis no chance again with an authoritative finish from 15 yards in the 30th minute.

The ease with which the marauding striker had found his way past the weak challenge of Juma’at Jantan must have alarmed the visitors, who still had the job of containing both he and his striking partner, the Egyptian Zakaria Yousif, for the remaining hour of the game.

Jamil Ali was playing in an unfamiliar role in the middle of the park, too, due to injuries to others in the Woodlands squad, but he figured in some important moves and was, significantly, the man brought down by Itimi Dickson when the free kick that led to the opening goal was awarded.

Jamil clipped a good chance over the bar in the 19th from the Iranian’s cross and had another good shot blocked in the 32nd, but the home team’s dominance withered markedly after the break.

A more resolute Protectors side could see that the Rams were sitting back, hoping to catch them on the counterattack, but nothing dangerous materialised as Home made all the running after the break.

Home, however, were denied at least a share of the spoils and possibly a come-from-behind victory due to the superb saves of Rams goalkeeper Rezal Hassan.

The stand-in captain made at least three crucial saves in the last half-hour to ensure the points would not slip away from his team’s grasp.

In addition, he cut out cross after cross with alacrity and was beaten only once, Norikazu Murakami getting another goal against the Rams to add to the hat-trick he collected in the teams’ previous meeting at the end of March.

Murakami and his lively strike partner, Kengne Ludovick, were both out of luck, either firing wide when well-placed or seeing defenders coming to the Rams’ rescue with well-timed tackles.

Murakami’s goal in the 71st, when it came, was spectacular.

A corner won on the right saw the ball quickly played short to Dickson, whose sweeping cross was latched onto by the Protectors No.9 with an overhead scissors kick that finally saw Rezal beaten from 12 yards.

There was still time for Home to win the game and every effort was made to achieve that objective, but when Ludovick could not converge with the best timing on the perfect cross from Dickson in the 74th and Valery Hiek’s stoppage-time free kick was tipped expertly over the bar, the visitors knew it was not to be their day.

Rams coach Nenad Bacina was a very happy man at the end.

“The players worked very hard for this result,” he said.

“Not just tonight but in many of our earlier games where we did not have any luck. Tonight we are getting the benefit of all our hard work at last.

“Tonight it was Home United who had none of the luck, but with our captain missing and two players in strange positions it was an excellent performance by the team against one of the best teams in the league.”

A week ago the Rams were among the strugglers in ninth place. Now they are on a roll, having moved on to 22 points and into seventh spot.

With a weekend home game to come against Balestier Khalsa they must fancy their chances of drawing level with the Protectors, who have 25 points and sit in fifth spot.

Home must now lick their wounds and return to Clementi Stadium on Saturday night to send Geylang United away pointless, so that they can at least keep the momentum going on their own turf.