Three Sailors given first time national call-ups

Singapore national team head coach Tatsuma Yoshida has called up nine members of the Lion City Sailors to be part of a series of training sessions this March.

This includes first time call-ups for three Sailors: Defenders Tajeli Salamat and Nur Adam Abdullah, as well as 2020 Singapore Premier League Young Player of the Year, Saifullah Akbar. 

That two of the three new call-ups are in the U-23 category is a testament to the commitment to youth shown by Sailors coach Aurelio Vidmar.

“We are very proud of Nur Adam and Saifullah for getting a chance to be involved with the national set up, and have full confidence that they, along with the rest of the Sailors who have been called up, will do themselves and the club proud,” said Vidmar.

“It is proof of the hard work they have continually put in to be recognised with the call-up, and we hope they are the first of many younger players who progress from the Sailors to the national side.

“We as a club are fully committed to youth development, and will continue to expose our U-23 players to as much playing time in the first team as we can.”

Singapore Sailors

Hassan Sunny, Amirul Adli, Nur Adam Abdullah, Tajeli Salamat, Shahdan Sulaiman, Saifullah Akbar, Hafiz Nor, Gabriel Quak, Faris Ramli


Song’s influence, new signings excite, and costly errors: 3 talking points from the Sailors’ mixed start to the season

With a win, a draw and a loss in the first three games of the 2021 Singapore Premier League (SPL) season, it would be fair to say that the Lion City Sailors have not had an ideal start to the campaign.

Having kicked off the year with a thrilling 3-3 draw against title rivals Tampines Rovers, Aurelio Vidmar’s side went on to thrash Tanjong Pagar United 5-0, before falling to a disappointing 3-1 defeat to Hougang United.

Here, we highlight the major talking points from the Sailors’ opening three matches.

Song’s still influential

Given the high-profile signings the Sailors made during the off-season, it was no surprise that much of the spotlight was fixed  on those players rather than on the team’s existing stars.

However, it was a stalwart of this Sailors squad, Song Uiyoung, who shone brightest in the first three games. Now into his 10th season in Singapore, the 27-year-old proved he remains one of the most important members of the squad, with three goals in as many fixtures.

It was he who opened the Sailors’ goalscoring account this year, in the 3-3 draw with Tampines. The South Korean made an intelligent run into the box to convert Haiqal Pashia’s low cross with the deftest of touches.

Song followed that up with two more goals against Tanjong Pagar three days later – his first, a superb cushioned volley on the turn, was soon followed by a well-timed header off Shahdan Sulaiman’s in-swinging cross. 

Those two goals meant that Song had scored 12 in his last 12 outings for the Sailors – a run that stretches back to the team’s 4-0 win over Geylang International last October. Unfortunately for Song, he was unable to find the back of the net against a resolute Hougang side.

But Song – who is currently the Sailors’ joint-top scorer along with Stipe Plazibat – is more than just about goals. The midfielder’s overall link-up play in attacking areas has helped to connect the lines between the Sailors’ midfield and attack. And so, while multi-million signing Diego Lopes continues his integration into the team, Song will be expected to continue being the man to keep the Sailors ticking.

New signings making an impact

While it usually takes time for new signings to bed into the team, most of the Sailors’ off-season recruits have managed to hit the ground running. 

And among the most impressive of the bunch is Nur Adam Abdullah. Turning 20 in April, the tenacious left-back plays with a maturity that belies his tender years. He has hardly put a foot wrong defensively, and has also been a constant threat in the final third with his overlapping runs. It is little wonder then that Nur Adam, who played the full 90 minutes in each of the Sailors’ first three games, earned a maiden call up to the Singapore National Team.

Meanwhile, fellow defender Amirul Adli has enjoyed a decent start to the season as well. While the Sailors have conceded six goals in three games, the 25-year-old has largely been on point with the timing of his tackles, while also showing strength and composure to bring the ball out of defence.

In attack, Faris Ramli has unsurprisingly been a bright spark for the Sailors. Coming off the bench in the Sailors’ first two outings, the 28-year-old made a positive impression in both matches – his delightful flick led to the Sailors’ third goal against Tampines, while against Tanjong Pagar, Faris first earned, then confidently dispatched a penalty to get off the mark for the season. 

Star signing Lopes has also shown glimpses of his immense quality in the two substitute appearances he has made so far this season. His performance against the Jaguars was  particularly eye-catching, with his presence and ability to control the tempo from the middle of the park proving crucial in breaking down a stubborn Tanjong Pagar side. It will still take more time before Lopes is fully integrated into the team, but with what we’ve seen of him so far, there is little doubt that he will add a different dimension to the Sailors’ football.

Cutting out the errors

Of course, we cannot shy away from talking about the mistakes at both ends of the pitch that have cost the Sailors precious points in these first three games.

In the games against Tampines and Hougang, the Sailors crafted out several gilt-edged opportunities to score, but were unable to capitalise on them.

And in the defensive third, the Sailors have made multiple errors – both individually and as a team – that have led to them conceding goals and ultimately, points.

This two-week international break perhaps comes at the right time for the Sailors who will seek to regroup and work to mend the chinks in the armour.

Nine players will be away on international duty with the Singapore national team for this week, but there is still the following week where Coach Aurelio can get his full team together for training again. This break will perhaps provide extra time for Fellipe to ramp up his fitness levels as he looks to make his much-awaited Sailors debut.

All is not doom and gloom for the Sailors. Such is the competitiveness of the SPL that no team in the league has a 100 percent record after three rounds. This is probably an indication that this season will be an open one, with ample time for the Sailors to get the ship in order, and back on course to meet the target of finishing the year as SPL champions.


Aurelio confident Sailors will bounce back from disappointing loss to Hougang

The Lion City Sailors suffered their first defeat of the season on Saturday, Mar 20, falling 1-3 to Hougang United at the Jalan Besar Stadium.

The Cheetahs stunned the Sailors with quick-fire goals from Lionel Tan (19’) and Tomoyuki Doi (21’) in the first-half, before Doi added a third for the visitors 14 minutes after the break.

Stipe Plazibat pulled one back for the Sailors in the 85th minute, but it proved to be nothing more than a consolation goal for Aurelio Vidmar’s men.

With the Sailors coming into the game off the back of a convincing 5-0 win over Tanjong Pagar the preceding Wednesday, many had expected them to carry on in their fine form and pick up all three points against Clement Teo’s side.

But Hougang came out firing on all cylinders right from the start, and coach Aurelio admitted that his side failed to match up to their opponents’ intensity on the day.

“Hougang were super organised, super aggressive in the first-half and we just didn’t match that,” said Aurelio. “We should have been aggressive from the very first minute, but instead, we were very reactive in the first-half. We were always second to the ball, and Hougang, to their credit, were very good.

“I thought we created enough chances in the second half to make the scoreline a little more respectable. But having said that, Hougang still thoroughly deserved to win on the day.”

The pain of this defeat was clearly etched on Sailors’ faces after the game, but Aurelio has backed his players to get over this setback and come back stronger.

He said: “It’s never easy when you lose a game. But we had a chat afterwards and spoke about being positive. It’s one loss and at some stage it would have happened during the course of the season. Good teams always find a way to bounce back, and that’s what we’ll be looking to do.

“This will be a tricky week because we lose several players to the National Team so we won’t have the majority of our players. But I have every faith in my team to be able to come back stronger from this.”

With one win, one draw and one loss after the first three games of the season, Aurelio has labelled his side’s start to the campaign as “mixed”.

But the Australian is not too fussed about the Sailors’ failure to record maximum points from the three games.

“We played well in our first two games,” Aurelio reflected. “We should have had the win against Tampines because we had very good one on one chances in that game. Obviously, the game against Tanjong Pagar was good as well.

“So yes, we’re a little bit short on the points that we wanted, but it’s a long season still to go. There’s a lot of football left to be played, and we just have to be better moving forward.”

The Sailors will be back in action again on April 3, when they take on the Young Lions at the Jalan Besar Stadium.


Song vows to continue red-hot scoring form as Sailors gear up for Hougang clash

Goals, goals and more goals. These days, it seems that whenever Song Uiyoung plays, he is more than likely to hit the back of the net.

Song’s brace in the Lion City Sailors’ 5-0 thumping of Tanjong Pagar United on Wednesday night (Mar 17) puts him at the top of the club’s scoring charts this season, with three goals to his name so far.

More impressively, it also took his goal tally to 12 in his last 12 outings for the Sailors – a run that stretches back to the team’s 4-0 win over Geylang International last October. It is a remarkable feat, considering that the South Korean is not deployed as a forward for Aurelio Vidmar’s outfit.

And while plaudits might go to Song for getting his name on the scoresheet, he would much rather give the credit for the goals to his teammates.

“Yes, I feel good about this record (of scoring 12 in the last 12 games), but I really have to appreciate my teammates for giving me all the good passes,” said Song.

“Individually, it’s a good start to the season for me. Now I just need to keep scoring and do my best to keep the good momentum going for the team.”

Since arriving in Singapore with Home United in 2012, the 27-year-old has gradually evolved into one of the most accomplished midfielders in the Singapore Premier League (SPL).

In the last couple of years, he has developed a knack for producing smart, first-time finishes in the box.

That was how he converted Haiqal Pashia’s low cross in the Sailors’ season-opening 3-3 draw with Tampines Rovers last weekend – a goal similar to the one he scored in the Sailors’ 3-0 win over Geylang towards the tail end of last season, when he calmly guided home Adam Swandi’s assist.

“Before matches, we always practice our attacking moves so that’s how the goals came about,” Song revealed. “It was the perfect assists from both my teammates – their crosses were so good that all I needed to do was make sure I was at the right place to score.”

Given his goal scoring prowess, it may come as a surprise to many that Song does not prioritise finishing during training sessions. Instead, his main focus still remains on being a creative outlet for the team.

“I’m a midfielder so I try to focus a lot on providing passes,” he explained. “Sometimes I will try to practice a bit of finishing. I never really put in extra work on it because it’s not a priority for the position I play in.”

Song’s best-scoring season was back in 2018, when he netted 20 goals across three competitions for Home United as they achieved a second-place finish in the league and became ASEAN zonal champions in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Cup.

With the Sailors set to compete on three fronts – the SPL, the Singapore Cup and the AFC Cup – he hopes to surpass that tally this season.

“I’ve already scored three, so I have 17 more to go!” he quipped. “Of course, I want to try to improve my record from 2018, and I have every confidence in my ability to do so.

“But I’m not too stressed about it, because I know we have strikers who are capable of scoring goals. The most important thing is the team’s result.”

Having brought in a multi-million dollar signing in former Benfica midfielder Diego Lopes, while also assembling a squad full of current and up-and-coming Singapore internationals, the Sailors are understandably under pressure to deliver some form of silverware this year.

Nonetheless, Song is relishing the ‘positive’ pressure that comes with representing the club, even as he looks forward to pairing up with Lopes on the pitch. The latter is pushing for a first start after impressing as a second-half substitute in the win over the Jaguars.

“Everyone in the team knows the level of expectations on us. We just have to focus on our individual jobs and believe in what we can achieve as a whole,” he said.

“The attitude and team morale has been very good from day one. You can see everyone is really happy to come in and work with each other every day.

“Diego really helped the team a lot when he came in (against Tanjong Pagar)…he was controlling the tempo of the game and contributed a lot of passes. I feel we already have a good understanding on the pitch. He’s a top professional who can really bring the best out of the players around him.”

Next up for the Sailors is a huge clash against title hopefuls Hougang United at the Jalan Besar Stadium on Saturday evening.

The Cheetahs have reinforced their ranks after a disappointing 2020 season in which they finished sixth out of eight teams. The likes of Tomoyuki Doi, Khairul Nizam, Gilberto Fortunato, as well as Sailors old boys Shahril Ishak and Kaishu Yamazaki, all made the move to Hougang Stadium during the off-season.

And Song says he is looking forward to a reunion with his former teammates, as the Sailors seek a second straight win to close out the month of March before the two-week international break.

“Shahril and Kaishu are very nice people…we enjoyed a very good relationship with each other and I still catch up with them on social media sometimes,” he shared. “Now, I’m really looking forward to competing against them.

“Everyone in Singapore knows what a legendary player Shahril is. I learnt a lot from him when he was my teammate, so I’m sure he will be a key player for Hougang.

“Hougang are a much different team as compared to last season, but we just have to focus on how we play and stick to our game plan to get the three points.”

You can catch the Sailors taking on Hougang at the Jalan Besar Stadium this Saturday, 5.30pm, either on SPL’s Facebook page or YouTube channel.


Faris pleased to get his first goal for the Sailors, hails Diego’s impact on the team

For Faris Ramli, scoring the fifth goal in the Lion City Sailors’ 5-0 win over Tanjong Pagar United in the Singapore Premier League (SPL) last evening was more than just about getting off the mark for his new club.

After winning a penalty at the Jurong East Stadium in the 83rd minute, Faris – who joined the Sailors from Malaysian side Terengganu in the off-season – took the ball and placed it on the spot, determined to take the spot-kick himself.

The 28-year-old made no mistake, as he sent Tanjong Pagar goalkeeper Fashah Iskandar the wrong way and placed the ball into the bottom corner.

Nonetheless, there were eyebrows raised over Faris’ insistence on taking the penalty, especially with team-mates Song Uiyoung and Stipe Plazibat both on a hat-trick. New signing Diego Lopes, who came on as a substitute in the second half, was also seen speaking with Faris before the spot-kick was taken.

Faris, however, explained that he was especially keen to get on the scoresheet yesterday as he wanted to dedicate a goal to his late uncle.

“Getting a goal today was very crucial for me personally, as my uncle had just passed away last Monday. I really wanted to score so I could dedicate the goal to him and his family,” Faris revealed.

“Yes, Diego also wanted to take the penalty, but he gave it to me in the end because he understood that I wanted to take it for my late uncle. Overall, though, I’m happy to have got my first goal after coming back to play in the SPL.”

While the 5-0 scoreline might indicate a one-sided affair, it was anything but. The first-half, in particular, saw the Jaguars keeping things tight at the back, and both teams were unable to break the deadlock by half-time.

Faris believes the introduction of Diego at the break gave the Sailors added attacking impetus, but also pinpointed Stipe Plazibat’s 47th minute penalty – awarded after a Tanjong Pagar defender was adjudged to have handled the ball in the box – as the pivotal moment in which the game turned on its head.

“I believe the first goal was very important for us to open up their tactical defensive shape,” said Faris. “But each and every player also stepped up really well after the first goal, and that was a big reason behind our other goals on the night.

“As for Diego, he really performed well on his debut with us. He came in and immediately gave us more attacking options and creativity (in the final third).

“It feels great to be playing in this team because there is always a hunger and desire to go forward and win the game. Now, it’s just for us to ensure that our form will be consistent throughout the season.”

After two games, the Sailors currently find themselves second in the table on four points, two points behind league leaders and reigning SPL champions Albirex Niigata (S).

The Sailors will next take on Hougang United at the Jalan Besar Stadium this Saturday at 5.30pm. Faris knows that the Cheetahs, who beat Geylang International 4-1 on Wednesday (Mar 17), will not be easy opponents.

However, he is confident that with morale in the Sailors camp on a high, they will be able to get all three points against Hougang.

“Hougang will definitely be a difficult game for us,” Faris admitted. “But the morale of the team was already on a high when we came into this game (against Tanjong Pagar), and with the victory, we are now feeling even more confident for the game on Saturday. The boys all want to win the game so that we can head into the upcoming international break on a positive note.”


Amirul Adli bent on cutting out defensive errors as Sailors look forward to Tanjong Pagar

Last Saturday (Mar 13) was an evening filled with mixed emotions for Amirul Adli as he pulled on the Lion City Sailors (LCS) shirt for the first time.

Making his Sailors debut obviously gave him immense joy and pride, while the three goals conceded in a 3-3 thriller with former club Tampines Rovers in their Singapore Premier League (SPL) season opener gave the young centre-back valuable lessons to reflect on.

Looking back on that eventful game in which the Sailors let slip a two-goal lead in the second half, Adli knew he and the rest of the backline could do better.

“It was our first game together, so there is room for improvement in certain areas. In my opinion we conceded quite soft goals – we know we can definitely do better,” said the 25-year-old.

“It’s obviously best not to concede, but I’m taking those goals as a reminder for us defenders to be more vigilant in such situations. Nonetheless it was a good overall performance from the team and it’s a big honour for me to make my debut for LCS.”

Under the tutelage of coach Aurelio Vidmar, the Sailors have morphed into a side that plays an attractive brand of possession-based football, and that was a key reason why Adli was signed in the off-season. With his ability to carry the ball out of defence and make forward passes, he is able to complement the team where he can feed the array of attacking options available to the Sailors, including the likes of Song Ui-Young, Gabriel Quak and Faris Ramli.

Having seen the scintillating football that the attackers can produce, Adli is already loving life with his new team despite being just one game in.

“Coach Aurelio’s tactical approach for the team is something which I really admire. We really push forward and not sit back to play a normal possession game,” he elaborated. “The team’s way of playing really complements my style… It’s easier for me to bring the ball out from the back and pass it forward to the attackers.

“Of course, on paper we’ve the best attackers in the league. From the back, I can really see how we link up and it’s really enjoyable to see. I’m sure the attackers will be more clinical as the season goes on.”

While it is just a few months since he joined the Sailors, Adli said that he already feels pretty much settled in and that is down to the presence of international teammates like Hassan Sunny, Shahdan Sulaiman and ‘good friend’ Adam Swandi.

He is looking forward to the prospect of linking up with experienced Brazilian defender Jorge Fellipe, as well as star compatriot Diego Lopes.

“Both Diego and Jorge have played high-level football, especially Jorge who has played in Asia. He’s tall, strong and also fast…  he’s a guy who will obviously take the level of our backline up another level and any defender in the Sailors will feel really secure playing beside him,” said Adli.

“His English is quite OK for now…  He’s a cheerful and happy person who’s really easy to get along with, I don’t think it’s hard to link up with him. This off-the-field chemistry will surely translate onto the pitch and I’m looking forward to him making his debut.”

Adli also has his sights set on being a lynchpin of the Singapore national team under Tatsuma Yoshida and securing a spot in the year-end AFF Suzuki Cup squad.

But for now, his primary focus to play consistently well at club level and the next immediate task is to help the Sailors get their first win of the season when they face last season’s bottom side Tanjong Pagar United away at Jurong East Stadium on Wednesday (Mar 17).

While the new-look Jaguars outfit were edged out 2-1 in their first outing against Geylang International, the level of performance and presence of quality players like Blake Ricciuto, Reo Nishiguchi and Khairul Amri suggest that they could provide a serious threat to any team in the league.

“Of course, Tanjong Pagar is not a team to be taken lightly, given the new signings that they made,” said Adli. “Everyone in Singapore football knows how a prolific poacher Amri is, so we must do well to guard him as well the rest.

“They’ll obviously be hyped to meet us, but we’ll also be hungry to get our first win. It’ll definitely an interesting battle.”


Disappointed Gabriel rues ‘two points dropped’ as Sailors play out thrilling 3-3 draw with Tampines

On paper, last night’s 3-3 draw against fellow title contenders Tampines Rovers in the first match of the 2021 SIngapore Premier League (SPL) season was not a bad result for the Lion City Sailors.

However, the manner in which the draw was played out at the Jalan Besar Stadium would have left the Stags the happier of the two sides, and the Sailors rueing what might have been.

After all, the hosts found themselves in the driving seat for the majority of the game after taking an early two-goal lead through Song Ui-Young and Gabriel Quak.

Tampines defender Madhu Mohana pulled one back for his side in the 19th minute, before Gabriel restored the Sailors’ two-goal advantage 13 minutes after the break.

But two quick-fire goals from Tampines captain Yasir Hanapi midway through the second-half saw the visitors draw level. Both the Sailors and Tampines had golden opportunities late in the game to clinch all three points, but neither side was able to take them, and they ultimately had to settle for a point apiece.

While Gabriel acknowledged that Tampines deserved praise for fighting back to earn the draw, the 30-year-old admitted that it still felt like ‘two points dropped’ for the Sailors.

“It was very disappointing not to have gotten the three points to start the season,” said the reigning SPL Player of the Year.

“Credit to Tampines because it’s never easy to fight back from two goals down, but personally for us, I felt like it’s two points dropped because of the commanding position that we had found ourselves in.

“But both teams threw caution to the wind, and from a spectator standpoint, I think you can’t ask for a better game. Hopefully, this will excite fans and draw more interest to the league.”

When asked to pinpoint where he thought the Sailors got it wrong last night, Gabriel mused: “I felt at 3-1 up, our mistake was not slowing the game down. Instead, we tried to still go neck to neck with them, which ultimately played into their hands, since they were the ones who needed to chase the game.

“But our game has always been attacking based, so we weren’t going to sit back and park the bus. So overall, I think our performance can’t be faulted, especially when you consider that this is only the first game of the season and we’ve had only one pre-season friendly under our belt.”

On a personal level, however, Gabriel was pleased to have started this campaign where he left off last season – among the goals.

Gabriel, who recorded five goals and seven assists last season, said: “It definitely feels great for me to start the season with two goals. After last year’s achievement [of winning the Player of the Year award], I knew a lot was on my shoulders to deliver for the team.

“So, I’m just glad to open my account early in the season to get going, and also to repay the faith from the management. Nonetheless, it would have been much sweeter for me if we had also managed to get a win.”

The Sailors will next take on Tanjong Pagar United this Wednesday (March 17), 7.45pm, at the Jurong East Stadium.


Aurelio lauds ‘fierce’ competition for places as Sailors gear up for SPL opener against Tampines

Excitement is building in the air with the new Singapore Premier League (SPL) season set to kick off this weekend.

Last year, the Sailors enjoyed an encouraging first campaign as they displayed a swashbuckling style of football en route to finishing third in the league.

This year, Aurelio Vidmar’s men are looking to take a couple of steps forward as they target a first-ever SPL title.

The Sailors have made several notable signings in the off-season to bolster their squad, with former Benfica midfielder Diego Lopes being the star acquisition. His experienced Brazilian compatriot, Jorge Fellipe, also comes in to shore up a defence that only kept four clean sheets in 14 games last season.

While the duo only started training with the Sailors last month, Aurelio foresees them making a swift impact on the team.

“Both of them started training four to five weeks after the rest so of course they’ll be a bit behind,” said coach Aurelio. “But they’ve been doing conditioning work to get themselves ready and also learning a bit of English as well.

“They’re now getting a clearer understanding of our playing style and what the team requires of them, so I don’t see an issue with them fitting in with the team.”

The Sailors also recruited exciting young local talents in the form of Nur Adam Abdullah and Amirul Adli to strengthen the core of the team. And, from what he’s seen of them so far, Aurelio believes both players have what it takes to succeed with the Sailors this season.

“Nur Adam is an exciting young talent and he will fill our left-back position,” said the former Socceroos captain. “While he’s still young, he has got the mentality and attitude to go to a higher level. He always wants to learn and is taking things in on a daily basis, so I look forward to a great year from him.

“Adli – we obviously got him in to strengthen our backline. He’s still rather young, but already has a lot of playing experience so he will be an asset to the team.”

New signings aside, the Sailors have retained the bulk of their 2020 squad for the coming season. This includes the likes of captain Hassan Sunny, Gabriel Quak, Shahdan Sulaiman, and hotshot striker Stipe Plazibat.

After missing last season’s run-in due to injury, Plazibat is now raring to go to make up for lost time, and Aurelio is certain the Croatian will finish among the league’s top scorers again this year.

“He missed the last few games, but he still finished as the (club’s and league’s) leading goal scorer. Injury is part and parcel of football, so he has nothing to prove to anyone,” said coach Aurelio.

“He’s a proven goal scorer everywhere he goes. As long as he gets the required service from the team, I see him finishing as one of the leading scorers again.”

With Covid-19 restrictions still in place, the Sailors, along with the rest of the teams in the SPL, have had to tweak their pre-season preparations.

For example, the Sailors were only able to play one friendly match this pre-season. The match, played last weekend, saw the Sailors beat the Young Lions 3-1.

Nonetheless, Coach Aurelio has seen enough positives in training to feel confident that his team can live up to the tag of being ‘title favourites’.

“It’s the same for every team (to play only one friendly match) and we’ll need a couple of games to get into gear,” he explained. “But it’s an encouraging sign to see that the competition for places has been fierce. Everyone’s motivated and doing well, so it’s definitely a good headache.

“We as a team have to live up to this challenge (of being title favourites). Since the privatisation of the club last year, everyone is obviously going to talk about us so we can’t take a soft or lazy approach to go about our work. It’s important that we go through the processes and be ready to turn up every week to perform. If we do, then obviously we can be ahead of everyone else and have a successful year.”

The SPL fixture list has drawn up a mouth-watering opening game of the season for the Sailors, pitting them against last season’s league runners-up Tampines Rovers. The Sailors suffered a heavy 4-0 loss to the Stags in the early stages of last season, before attaining a 1-1 draw in the reverse fixture.

While coach Aurelio acknowledges that his side will face a ‘big’ challenge for the SPL title from Gavin Lee’s men, he believes the rest of the chasing pack are also capable of usurping them to finish near the top.

“It’s always a difficult game against Tampines – they have a very good footballing style and a number of good players,” said coach Aurelio. “But then again, every game is difficult. Look at what the others like Tanjong Pagar (United) and Hougang (United) have done over the off-season – they have massively improved.

“No team is going to have a bad season and sit there not doing anything to change things. So, I expect a much tougher season than the last one.”

You catch the Sailors’ opening match of the season against Tampines Rovers tomorrow, 5.30pm, LIVE on the Singapore Premier League Facebook page.


8 reasons why you should get excited about the Sailors’ 2021 season

The Lion City Sailors set tongues wagging last season when they became Singapore’s first-ever privatised football club.

Expectations were high for the Sailors. With renowned coach Aurelio Vidmar at the helm, along with the signings of top stars such as Gabriel Quak, Hassan Sunny, and Shahdan Sulaiman, many believed the team could go on and win the Singapore Premier League (SPL) title in their maiden season.

And while the Sailors were ultimately unable to achieve that goal – they finished third in the league – they still set the SPL alight with their exciting brand of possession-based attacking football.

This year, however, the Sailors will be looking to take the next step.

The high-profile signings of Diego Lopes, Jorge Fellipe and Faris Ramli, along with the additions of some of Singapore’s best young players such as Amirul Adli, Nur Adam Abdullah and Justin Hui, have only served to heighten expectations for Aurelio’s men, who have once again set their sights on bringing home the SPL title.

Ahead of their season-opener against Tampines Rovers this weekend, we outline eight reasons why the Sailors will be THE team to watch this year.


1. Lopes to bring the Samba magic

Where else to start apart from this milestone signing? The arrival of Diego Lopes was the talk of the town during the off-season for good reason. At 26 years of age, Lopes has arrived in the Lion City at his peak, having been a key player for top-flight Portuguese outfit Rio Ave over the past few seasons.

 While this may be the playmaker’s first foray into Asia following various stints in Europe and South America, Lopes’ inherent quality means he should have no problem acclimatising to the demands of Singapore football.

Since he first started training with the team three weeks ago, Lopes has already struck up a good understanding with chief striker Stipe Plazibat. The Brazilian maestro will surely add a new dimension to the Sailors’ attacking play, and it will be interesting to see how he links the lines between midfield and attack.


2. Make that a double order of Samba

While Lopes’ signing has dominated the headlines, the arrival of his compatriot Jorge Fellipe is equally crucial to the Sailors. Standing at 1.9m, the 32-year-old centre-back adds height and aggression to the backline – traits the team could have used last season. After all, Aurelio’s men kept just four clean sheets in 14 games, a statistic which they need to improve on in order to win the title.

Recruited specifically because he is a left-footed centre-back, Fellipe provides balance to suit the team’s philosophy of playing out from the back. With his experience playing in top leagues around the globe such as the Brazil Serie A and Portuguese Primeira Liga, Fellipe’s know-how will surely be a huge boost to the entire Sailors’ backline.


3. Developing S’pore best young talents

Amidst the excitement surrounding the signings of Lopes and Fellipe, the arrivals of Nur Adam Abdullah and Amirul Adli may have flown under the radar somewhat.

However, both Nur Adam and Adli are astute signings who will add vibrancy, speed and hunger to the Sailors backline. With the Sailors committed to developing local youth players, the duo will likely play a significant role this coming season.

Nur Adam arrives at the Sailors after a breakthrough campaign with Young Lions where he impressed with his bravery and tenacity at the tender age of 19. The left-back has all the makings of a modern full-back, with his ability to create in the final third – he recorded four assists last season – set to provide a new dimension to the Sailors’ attack.

Meanwhile, Adli has already established himself as one of the best defenders in the SPL. Since making his debut in 2016, Adli has featured regularly in the SPL – a testament to his consistency and reliability. His superb reading of the game and ball-playing abilities means he stands a good chance of pairing up with Fellipe at the heart of the Sailors’ backline.


4. Faris linking up with familiar faces

A household name in Singapore football, Faris Ramli is a proven star who will be expected to come in and make an immediate impact for the Sailors.

Having won the SPL Player of the Year (POTY) gong in 2019, before plying his trade in Malaysia last season, Faris is now back at a familiar place, having enjoyed a stellar season in 2017 with the Sailors’ predecessors, Home United. That season, Faris contributed 21 goals and as many assists for Home across four competitions.

Crucially, Faris is no stranger to the core of the Sailors squad, having previously played with many of them at some point of his career. Players such as Stipe, Adam Swandi, Song Ui-Young and Amiruldin Asraf were all his teammates at Home in 2017. Faris has also played with the likes of Gabriel Quak, Shahdan Sulaiman and Hassan Sunny while turning out for the National Team.

With so many familiar faces in the squad, and with the 28-year-old at the prime of his career, Faris looks set to make waves once again in the SPL this year.


5. Stipe looking to make the most of his first full season

Known to be a fierce competitor who always demands the best of himself, Stipe was naturally disappointed that he was unable to play a part in the Sailors’ 2020 season run-in due to injury.

While the Sailors still managed to do decently without Stipe, the Croatian’s absence was a huge miss in several key matches, including the loss against Albirex Niigata (S) and the draw against Tampines Rovers.

Such was Stipe’s goalscoring prowess that despite missing a significant chunk of the season due to injury, he still managed to clinch the SPL Top Scorer award, and was even nominated for the POTY award.

Now back to full fitness, the 31-year-old is looking to pick up where he left off in his first full season with the Sailors as he seeks to lead the team to glory. With Lopes and Faris added into the attacking mix and providing him service from the midfield, few will bet against Stipe from finishing the season as the league’s top scorer once again.


6. Gabriel and Saifullah out to impress national selectors

As the saying goes: one swallow does not a summer make. That is especially the case in football, where consistency is the deciding factor in determining whether a player is the real deal or just a flash in the pan.

Last season, Gabriel Quak and Saifullah Akbar enjoyed outstanding individual seasons as they clinched the POTY and Young Player of the Year awards respectively. Unsurprisingly, expectations are now higher on them to replicate and hopefully even surpass what they did previously.

Gabriel enjoyed being the fulcrum of the Sailors’ attack in 2020, topping the assists chart with seven and contributing five goals. This season, he may play a slightly different role with Lopes set to be featured in the no. 10 role. Nonetheless, be it playing on the wings or down through the middle, Gabriel has the ability to make a positive impact in attack. With the AFF Suzuki Cup looming at the end of the year, Gabriel will be extra motivated to perform at a consistently high level to cement his place in national coach Tatsuma Yoshida’s starting XI.

The same goes for Saifullah, who, having come of age last season, will seek to add more goals and assists to his repertoire. Lopes’ presence in the team also means he will have the perfect role model to learn from. If Saifullah continues on his upward trajectory this season, then a maiden national call-up will surely not be far away for the young playmaker.


7. Wide array of attacking talents and solid squad depth

With the Sailors set to compete on three fronts this season – the SPL, the Singapore Cup, and the AFC Cup – it is crucial for there to be sufficient depth and quality in the squad if they are to win honours this season.

And that is exactly what the Sailors have. In attack, there is the irrepressible Stipe leading the line up front, while 2019 and 2020 SPL POTY award winners Faris and Gabriel, as well as Adam Swandi and Hafiz Nor, will provide the threat on the flanks.

The supporting cast in the middle includes the likes of Lopes, Shahdan, Saifullah and Song. Let’s not forget up-and-coming talents in the form of Haiqal Pashia and Justin Hui.

In the defensive third, Fellipe, Adli and Nur Adam add depth to a backline that already boasts the likes of Tajeli, Abdil and Naqiuddin Eunos. All this simply means that coach Aurelio will have the luxury of rotating his players to keep them fresh, without adversely affecting the team’s level of performance.


8. Possible continental success

The Sailors’ predecessor Home United achieved success in the AFC Cup in 2018, when they finished as the ASEAN zonal champions. Now, the Lion City Sailors have a chance to not just emulate that, but possibly go even further in the tournament. 

With the squad vastly strengthened for the coming season, the Sailors are well-equipped for a deep run in the second-tier Asian club competition. Just as important, in coach Aurelio, the Sailors have a man who has the experience of excelling on this stage. Back in 2008, the former Socceroos captain led Adelaide United to become the first A-League club to reach the AFC Champions League final.

With Aurelio’s expertise and the overall quality in all departments, the Sailors will be amongst the favourites to conquer the ASEAN Zone again. Of course, there will still be the inter-zonal semis and final to navigate before they achieve the dream of reaching the final. But there is every chance that the Sailors will be able to fly the Singapore flag high on the regional stage this time around.