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Ruthless Sailors Women take down Hougang to maintain perfect start

The Lion City Sailors Women’s Team continued their impressive start to the 2024 Deloitte Women’s Premier League (WPL) season with a dominant 4-0 victory over title rivals Hougang United at Yishun Stadium on Sunday (15 Apr) evening. 

A commanding first-half performance saw them take a three goal lead into the break, before a late strike by Josephine Ang sealed an emphatic win, propelling them three points clear at the top of the table with three victories in as many matches

The result and manner of victory was particularly impressive, given that two teenagers were making their first starts for the Sailors in the WPL.

Nur Izairida Shakira was handed her first-ever start in goal in the WPL, replacing experienced custodian Beatrice Tan. Despite her youth and inexperience, the 16-year-old – who previously made a brief appearance in a 2-1 win over Albirex Niigata (S) three weeks ago – did not look out of place, as she made several impressive saves to deny Hougang’s Nicole Lim and secure her first-ever WPL clean sheet.

Meanwhile, 14-year-old Natasha Kaur was given the nod in central midfield – this meant that all seven teenagers promoted from the club’s Girls Academy have now featured in the women’s top flight in 2024. The other six are the aforementioned Shakira, Tyan Foong, Yuvika Suresh, Seri Nurinsyirah, Nadia Nuraffendi and Liyana Rickit.

Analysing his young team’s win over title challengers Hougang, Sailors Head Coach Daniel Ong said, “The players stuck to the game plan diligently and fought for each other on the pitch. We knew that this game wouldn’t be easy. But all the girls were up to the task today, and that leaves me with nothing much to complain about.

“Shakira controlled her defence well and made a few good interventions throughout. As for Natasha, she showed some promising moments and will definitely improve with more training and matches.”

Daniel’s young charges dominated early proceedings, and it was no surprise when they broke the deadlock in the 20th minute. Syazwani Ruzi delivered a defence-splitting pass for hotshot forward Raeka Ee, who fired home a composed finish into the bottom right corner for her fifth goal of the season. 

The goal means Raeka has now scored in each of her three WPL appearances so far, as she continues to make an impact in her debut season in the top flight.

The Sailors’ lead was doubled on 39 minutes when Nur Sarah Zu’risqha’s industrious play down the flank resulted in an own goal by Hougang’s Nur Izyani. The Sailors extended their lead further just before half-time, when centre-back Sara Hayduchok headed home from Ho Hui Xin’s precise cross.

Natasha, who showed a maturity beyond her years in the middle of the pitch, was subsequently subbed off for new signing Laura Gänser.

Reflecting on her performance, the 14-year-old said, “I made quite a few good runs and passes, but I think I could still improve further on my positioning and when to time my runs. I’m grateful to senior players like Hui Xin and Sara for guiding me along. Now, my next target is to complete my first 90 minutes in the WPL.”

A three-goal lead meant the Sailors were able to take their foot off the gas in the second half. But they still had time to add the icing on the cake in the 88th minute with a fourth goal, as substitute Josephine converted home a firm low finish for her first goal of the season.

The win extends the Sailors’ unbeaten streak in the WPL to 33 matches – a run that stretches all the way back to 2022.

Despite the convincing start to the season, however, Daniel does not want his players to rest on their laurels, as he emphasised the need to strive for continual improvement. 

“There’re still some details that we can work on, especially when it comes to making better use of our ball possession, and how to read each other’s body movements on the pitch. But I’m sure with the girls’ commitment, we’ll surely get even better.”

Next up for the Sailors Women in the WPL is an encounter against Tanjong Pagar next Saturday (20 April) at the Choa Chu Kang Stadium. 

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Commitment and control – Sailors Women aim to gun down unbeaten Hougang

Three weeks after their tenacious 2-1 victory over Albirex Niigata (S), the Lion City Sailors Women’s Team will take on another Deloitte Women’s Premier League (WPL) title challenger in Hougang United at Yishun Stadium on Sunday (14 April) evening. 

Both teams are currently locked at the top of the table with six points each, having won their first two matches. The Sailors hold a slight advantage due to their slightly superior goal difference.

Sailors Head Coach Daniel Ong is acutely aware of the threat that Hougang pose, and has emphasised the need for his young side to take control of early proceedings. 

“The biggest threat from Hougang are their attackers – they have extremely fast players who are very clinical in front of goal. They’re a side who are definitely in for the title challenge, and we cannot take them lightly,” said the 35-year-old, who took over from two-time WPL Coach of the Year Yeong Sheau Shyan in the off-season. 

“We just need to play our usual game and know how to control the tempo. If we can dictate possession and keep the ball well, I think we’ll win the game.”

Preparations for this massive game have been far from ideal. After all, nine Sailors players only returned to Singapore earlier this week, following a 10-day training camp with the National Women’s Team in Saudi Arabia, where they played two closed-door friendlies with Al-Nassr and Qasedeya. 

This meant that the likes of Umairah Hamdan, Dorcas Chu and Nur Sarah Zu’risqha only had a couple of training sessions with the club since returning. Nonetheless, the Sailors remain unperturbed, as they seek to extend their unbeaten run in the WPL since 2022 to 33 matches. 

“It’s definitely tiring to return to league action so quickly after international duty, but we’re not complaining about it. We’re all raring to go again and ready to fight for the team’s cause,” said Sarah, who impressed in her Sailors’ WPL debut against Albirex the last time out. 

Following that crucial win over Albirex, which was played out in front of a packed crowd at the Jalan Besar Stadium, Daniel believes his charges have the potential to achieve even more this season. 

“The win against Albirex has given the team more belief and affirmation that what we’ve been working on and off the pitch is working. I want the girls to stay committed, believe, and fight for each other. Most importantly, I want them to stay humble,” he elaborated. 

“The players we have this season are all fast learners and willing to adapt to different situations. As long as we keep pulling in the same direction, another unbeaten season is not beyond us.”  

Sarah, who acknowledged that she has improved as a player since joining the Sailors in the off-season, is determined to become a WPL champion with the club, and a win over Hougang would bring her closer to achieving that goal. 

“The regularity and intensity of the training sessions are the biggest differences between here and my former team. I feel I’ve improved in terms of my technical abilities and tactical know-how of the game, and I want to get even better as a player – my target is to contribute more assists and  goals to the team,” said the 17-year-old winger. 

“As a team, we have made a good start and we’re now focused on beating Hougang. The ultimate target is to be champions, and the whole team is very motivated for that.”

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2024/25 SPL title tilt begins 10 May against Hougang 

Mark your calendars for Friday, the 10th of May, Sailors fans. 

That is when the Lion City Sailors will kick off their 2024/25 Singapore Premier League (SPL) campaign, as they take on Hougang United at the Jalan Besar Stadium.

This match will come six days after the Sailors’ SPL Community Shield clash against last season’s league winners Albirex Niigata (S) on Saturday, 4 May at the same venue. 

The first home game of the season for Aleksandar Ranković’s men will be on the following Saturday, 18 May, when they host a refreshed Young Lions outfit at Bishan Stadium. 

The 2023 Singapore Cup champions will then fly to Brunei to play Brunei DPMM at the Hassanal Bolkiah Stadium at Bandar Seri Begawan on Saturday, 15 June, before hosting Albirex – this time in the league – the following Sunday, on 23 June. 

The fixture list for the 2024/25 SPL season was officially announced by the Football Association of Singapore on Friday afternoon (12 April). 

With the league changing from a three-round format to four, the Sailors will play a total of 32 SPL matches. The Sailors’ last match of the season will see them take on BG Tampines Rovers on Saturday, 24 May, 2025.

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Sailors sign pair of Australian brothers to bolster striking ranks

The Lion City Sailors have signed brothers Obren and Novak Kljajić to bolster their striking options for the upcoming 2024/25 campaign. 

Obren will fill the second of three permitted Under-21 foreign players’ slots for the Sailors’ Singapore Premier League (SPL) squad, while Novak will primarily feature for the club’s Under-21s side. 

The Australians both stand at 1.86m tall, and bring similar qualities to the Sailors – versatility across the front line, and a keen eye for goal. 

Obren comes with experience playing in the Serbian SuperLiga with FK Voždovac, and was part of Brisbane Roar’s Under-21 side, on top of being a former Bosnia Under-18 international. 

The 20-year-old first trained with the Sailors in the 2023 pre-season and having enjoyed that stint, he had no qualms coming over again when he got an offer from the club this off-season. 

“I was pretty stoked to get the call to come back as I feel there’s unfulfilled business for me in Singapore with the Sailors,” said the energetic left-footed forward, who played for Peninsula Power in the National Premier Leagues (NPL) Queensland – a level below the professional A-League.  

“It’s great to be teammates with Bailey (Wright), who played for the Australia national team. We’ve some top-quality players here, and I’m already looking forward to the start of the season.”

Meanwhile, Novak – two years younger than Obren – played for Brisbane Roar at the Under-16 level, and has represented Queensland Lions in the NPL for the past two seasons alongside former Sailors forward Andy Pengelly.

“I’m excited to get this chance at a big club like the Sailors, where there are great facilities, amazing coaches and great people. I want to become a more all-rounded player here and contribute to good things for the club,” he said.

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Sailors add depth with signing of young Spanish left-back Sergio Carmona

The Lion City Sailors have signed Spanish teenage left-back Sergio Carmona Pérez for the upcoming 2024/25 Singapore Premier League (SPL) season. 

Blessed with speed, a strong physique, and good technical abilities, the 19-year-old will fill the first of three permitted Under-21 foreign players’ slots for the Sailors’ SPL squad, and provide competition for Christopher van Huizen in the starting left-back spot. 

Carmona most recently played for AD Unión Adarve in the fourth-tier of Spanish football, making three Segunda Federación appearances in the ongoing 2023/24 season. 

Prior to that, he was in Alcorcón’s age-group teams till the Under-19 level, and also represented CD Toledo in the Spanish fifth division. 

And ultimately, it was a burning desire to carve out a successful professional footballing career that led Carmona to the Lion City. 

“When I got the offer from the Sailors, I didn’t think twice, because I’ve always been playing on youth contracts in Spain,” the Madrid-born defender said. “I want this chance to prove that I’m capable of becoming a professional footballer, and I feel this is the right place to show my credentials.” 

Having already started in a couple of pre-season friendlies, Carmona is determined to push hard for minutes in the Sailors’ starting 11, and help the team achieve success in the coming season. 

“The level is extremely high in this team; we’ve players like Bart Ramselaar, Toni Datković and Maxime Lestienne, who have played at the highest level in Europe. I can learn so much from these players and I want to show my qualities for this team,” said the youngster, who once came up against Manchester United star Alejandro Garnacho in an Under-15 league match between Alcorcón and Atletico Madrid.

“I’ve a good left foot and can play the ball out of defence, so I can definitely contribute to this team. I want to earn as many minutes as possible for the first team, and be part of a squad that wins all the titles in Singapore.”

 

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Sailors to play MSL champions JDT in friendly double-header on 4 and 8 April

The Lion City Sailors will play Malaysian giants Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) in two friendly matches in April, as the club ramps up their preparations for the upcoming 2024/25 Singapore Premier League (SPL) season. 

The Sailors will host the Southern Tigers at the Bishan Stadium in Singapore on Thursday, 4 April at 8.30pm, before making the trip across the Causeway to face the 10-time Malaysia Super League (MSL) winners at the Sultan Ibrahim Stadium the following Monday, 8 April at 10pm.

The two matches also serve to reinforce the relationship between both clubs, with cooperation already ongoing at the youth level through regular friendly matches. 

Boosted by new signings like Bart Ramselaar, Toni Datković and Song Uiyoung, the 2023 Singapore Cup champions will be eager to test themselves against a formidable JDT side. 

Amongst their ranks are former Udinese star Fernando Forestieri and ex-Swansea City player Jordi Amat, as well as rising Malaysian stars Arif Aiman Hanapi and Romel Morales.

Sailors captain Hariss Harun believes the two matches will stand them in good stead ahead of a gruelling 2024/25 campaign. 

“Everyone in the region knows about JDT’s quality, but we’re building up something at the Sailors as well, so we want to test ourselves and see how we can compete against them,” said the 33-year-old, who won six MSL titles with JDT between 2014 to 2020. 

“This is also a good opportunity for some of the young players who’re embedded in the first team this season, and we want to give a good account of ourselves in these two matches.”

Ticketing details for both matches will be released shortly. 

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Sailors Women secure thrilling victory against title rivals Albirex

There was an eerie calmness about the atmosphere at the Jalan Besar Stadium on Sunday (24 March) night as both the Lion City Sailors and Albirex Niigata (S) warmed up for their crunch Deloitte Women’s Premier League (WPL) fixture.

Though only the second WPL match of the season for both teams, the encounter carried immense weight and anticipation. This was, after all, a showdown between the reigning champions and their determined contenders – the winner of which would gain an early advantage in the title race.

But that calmness dissipated the moment the first whistle blew, as both teams went at each other with a ferocity and intensity befitting of the high-stakes of the match.

Ultimately, though, it was a young Sailors outfit that emerged victorious – and kept their unbeaten record intact – as they secured a 2-1 win over the White Swans.

It was Sailors forward Raeka Ee who stole the headlines, as she continued her impressive start to life in the WPL by scoring both her team’s goals to propel Daniel Ong’s charges to the top of the WPL table.

The Sailors no. 9 now leads the WPL scoring charts with four goals in her first two outings for the club, and Head Coach Daniel had nothing but compliments for the young striker. 

Raeka is a player who is willing to learn. Most importantly, she always applies what she’s learned in training,” said Daniel. “When her teammates give her feedback, she listens and always gives her very best for every training session. She is truly an asset to the team.”

Spurred on by a boisterous crowd, both teams started the game at a frenetic pace, but it was the Sailors who struck the first blow in the 29th minute, as Nur Syazwani Ruzi’s free-kick was spilled by Albirex custodian Nurul Haziqah Haszman, and Raeka reacted quickest to stab the ball home and give the Sailors a 1-0 lead.

Amidst the jubilant celebrations among the Sailors, however, there was also an unmistakable hint of relief on their faces at having taken the lead against a formidable Albirex side which boasted the likes of former Sailors duo Ernie Sulastri Sontaril and Lila Tan.

Two minutes into the second half, 20-year-old Raeka doubled the Sailors’ lead in similar fashion. This time, it was Dorcas Chu – making her first WPL start since recovering from an anterior cruciate ligament injury in September 2022 – whose attempt on goal was blocked by an onrushing Dhaniyah Qasimah, but Raeka was on hand once again to drive the rebound into the back of the net.

While both her goals were borne out of Albirex’s defensive lapses, Raeka believes her positioning and instinct as a striker was key to her being in the right place at the right time.

“As a striker, you want every chance you can get,” Raeka mused. “But when these chances fall into your hands, you have to seize them, so it’s important to always predict where the ball will end up.

“I feel very happy to be able to get the team the result we worked hard for.”

Albirex did have a golden opportunity to halve the deficit soon after, but experienced Sailors custodian Beatrice Tan and young defender Tia Foong combined well to hoof the ball off the line after a goalmouth scramble.

Unfortunately, Beatrice sustained an injury during the clearance, and shortly after, she had to be substituted off after yet another accidental collision.

This led to a WPL debut for 16-year-old goalkeeper Nur Izairida Shakira, who became the sixth teenager to feature for the Sailors in the women’s top flight in 2024 after being promoted from the club’s Girls Academy in the off-season. Shakira follows in the footsteps of Tyan Foong, Yuvika Suresh, Seri Nurinsyirah, Nadia Nuraffendi and Liyana Rickit.

“It was a thrilling experience especially with the intensity of today’s matchup with Albirex,” shared 16-year-old Shakira. “It was initially a shock (to be called upon). I wasn’t expecting to play, but when Beatrice collided with the post, I knew that I had to come on. I was so nervous but I just prayed for the best.

The support from my teammates really helped to calm my nerves. I also have Coach Daniel to credit; though he’s strict in training, he also motivates me and reminds me to enjoy the game. Making my debut against a powerhouse like Albirex, I made sure to be more commanding in goal and not let the pressure get to me.”

Daniel, a former Sailors Goalkeeping Coach, added, “I am definitely very proud of her (Shakira’s) progression after seeing her nearly everyday for four years. To see her out there today was heartwarming despite the goal. She’s definitely one for the future.”

Unfortunately, Shakira could not mark her WPL debut with a clean sheet, as she was beaten by Mulan Ayliffe’s powerful shot in the 87th minute – the first WPL goal that the Sailors have conceded since August 2023.

The goal gave Kana Kitahara’s side renewed drive in the closing moments of the game, but the Sailors were able to withstand the Albirex onslaught to secure the precious three points.

Shakira credits the Sailors’ fan support for helping the team get over the finish line. She said, “I was nervous because we had already conceded a goal and if we had let another one in, all our hard work would have gone to waste. But the fans and our family in the stands were so loud, it helped all of us to maintain composure and take the three points.”

While acknowledging the strength of this Albirex side, Daniel revealed that he had told his charges before the game to simply focus on playing the way they had been in training.

“Winning against a strong team like Albirex will definitely boost their confidence, and there’s a lot of take away from today’s game,” Daniel explained. “I was especially pleased with how we played out from midfield quicker.

“As a young team, every training session and every game is a learning opportunity for our players and myself. It’s a long process but I have confidence in everyone in the team including the coaching and backroom staff.”

With two wins in two, the Sailors currently lead the WPL standings ahead of Hougang United on goal difference. Both the Sailors and Hougang will face off next on Sunday, 14 April, at Choa Chu Kang Stadium on Matchday 3.

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Focus and tenacity key for Sailors Women ahead of Albirex clash

The Lion City Sailors Women’s Team may only be playing their second match of the 2024 Deloitte Women’s Premier League (WPL) season this Sunday (24 March) night, but the significance of that fixture cannot be overstated.

After all, they will face arguably the sternest test to their proud, two-year unbeaten record, when they take on title rivals Albirex Niigata (S) at the Jalan Besar Stadium.

Albirex have made no secret of their desire to dethrone the Sailors as WPL champions this season. This ambition has been backed up by their off-season transfers, which saw them bring in the likes of 2022 WPL Player of the Year Manami Fukuzawa, Singapore national skipper Siti Rosnani Azman and former Sailors Lila Tan, Ernie Sulastri Sontaril, and Nur Izzati Rosni.

But while Albirex – who are led by player-coach Kana Kitahara, a former Japan international – will undoubtedly be keen to make a statement and lay down a title marker with a win on Sunday, Sailors defender Sara Hayduchok urged her teammates to stay calm and focus on their football instead of the magnitude of the game.

She said, “Challenges, fears, and mistakes are all part of the game. This weekend’s match will be no exception. Each of us has a responsibility to ourselves and our teammates to maintain focus, tenacity, and encourage each other in every situation.

“In this season, no one can afford to get comfortable at any point. There’s ample time for future match results and unforeseen factors to influence the season’s final outcome.”

Sara also revealed that the Sailors have prepared in detail for their match against Albirex, as the 28-year-old elaborated, “With more high-profile players on Albirex’s team, we have a deeper understanding of their strengths and weaknesses compared to last year. As a result, our preparations have also become more specific. 

“Nonetheless, the objective has always been to excel in our team’s playing style, and that remains the same from match to match.”

Having won their opening games, the Sailors and Albirex currently sit second and third in the WPL table respectively, with Hougang United setting the early-season pace at the top with two wins in two.

Like Albirex, the Sailors also underwent a revamp of their playing personnel during the off-season, with the team now comprising a slew of teenagers promoted from the Sailors’ Girls Academy.

While this new-look Sailors squad might not be as experienced as the previous two iterations, Sara is confident that the team’s young guns will be able to handle the pressure of playing against a title rival.

After all, most of the Sailors’ newly-promoted players played for Mattar Sailors in the Women’s National League (WNL) last year. During that campaign, they reached the final, facing a Royal Arion team that included four former Thai National team players with World Cup experience.

“This is not the first team our younger players have played for impressive crowds under immense pressure. I have seen their growth even in the last few months and feel confident that they will carry out their responsibilities this weekend,” Sara declared.

One of the Sailors’ newly promoted players is Tyan Foong, who joins her sister Tia in the senior squad. Having made her WPL debut in the Sailors’ 5-0 win over Tiong Bahru earlier this month, Tyan is looking forward to testing herself against Albirex.

The centre-back credits Sailors Women’s Head Coach Daniel Ong for helping her prepare for the game with intensive training sessions, as she said, “Playing against Albirex will definitely be a test for me. In training, the new players put in our best effort to reach the WPL seniors’ standards so as not to fall behind.

“We’re doing sprinting sets at almost every training session, so I think that itself is a mental game that we have to play.”

The younger Foong sister also revealed that she uses visualisation methods to prepare herself mentally for the game.

“Sometimes, I can get a little overwhelmed (before the game), so I’ve learned how to keep myself calm. I’ve trained hard ever since I stepped foot into the team, so hopefully it will pay off,” said Tyan.

“This weekend will be an exciting game and I am definitely nervous, but I am just going to give my best. I think a personal goal for me is not to panic during the game itself, to be able or play like my normal self from start to finish, passing every ball with intention and receiving every ball knowing what to do next.”

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Sailors Women get 2024 WPL title defence off to a winning start

A youthful Lion City Sailors Women’s Team got their Deloitte Women’s Premier League (WPL) title defence off to a perfect start, as they emphatically trounced last season’s bottom side Tiong Bahru 5-0 at the Choa Chu Kang Stadium on Saturday (9 March) evening.

Led by new Head Coach Daniel Ong, the Sailors Women raced into a three-goal lead within the first half-hour, before adding another two in the second half to seal a comfortable win.

Debutants Raeka Ee (two) and Seri Nurinsyirah were amongst the goals, while Syazwani Ruzi and Canadian midfielder Madison Telmer also opened their accounts for the season.

While happy to get a first WPL victory under his charge, Daniel has urged his side to put up a better display ahead of tougher hurdles ahead.

“It was not a bad outing for us – we had six players making their WPL debuts today and it’s important for them to get a first taste of action at this level,” said the 35-year-old, who took over the reins from two-time WPL Coach of the Year Yeong Sheau Shyan in the off-season.

“In terms of the overall performance, I felt we could have done better in certain periods of the game, and we’ll need to work on consistently producing our attacking style of football over 90 minutes. These girls have the ability, and I know we can improve further as a team.”

Amongst the six WPL debutants were five teenagers from the Sailors’ Girls Academy. Winger Yuvika Suresh and defender Tyan Foong – both born in 2009 – started the game and acquitted themselves well, while Seri, Nadia Nuraffendi and Liyana Rickit came on as second-half substitutes.

It took only eight minutes for the new-look Sailors Women side to open the scoring. Having impressed while playing for Mattar Sailors in the Women’s National League last season, Raeka showed her predatory striking instincts as she reacted quickest to prod home Yuvika’s cross-shot from a yard out for her first goal for the club.

The lead was doubled just three minutes later through Madison, who hit a crisp low drive from range into the bottom corner.

Syazwani – who donned the armband in the absence of the injured Umairah Hamdan – then produced a moment of brilliance, as she fired a stunning shot from the edge of the area that looped over Tiong Bahru keeper Vanessa Tan to make it 3-0 after just 23 minutes.

Clearly delighted with her goal, the Sailors Women vice-captain said, “Many people say that’s my signature (move), where I score by lobbing the ball over the goalkeeper.”

The 23-year-old added, “At that moment, I was outside the box and I knew I had to take that shot. I took the chance and I’m glad it went in.”

Raeka – who made her debut for the Singapore Women’s National Team in December – would net her second of the night shortly after the hour mark with a calm finish, after fellow debutant Qarissa Putri Ramandhani teed her up with an inch-perfect through pass.

The rout was completed with four minutes to go. A cross from substitute and new signing Laura Gänser was deflected into the path of Seri, and the 15-year-old kept her cool to poke the loose ball past the goalkeeper.

The result puts the Sailors Women top of the WPL after Matchday One, ahead of Hougang United, who beat BG Tampines Rovers 4-1 in the other match played on Saturday.

Up next for the Sailors Women is a tantalising clash against title challengers Albirex Niigata (S) on March 24 at the Choa Chu Kang Stadium, and Syazwani acknowledged the reigning WPL champions still have work to do ahead of the big game.

“Our execution of the game and finishing could be better. Our communication with each other is also an aspect that needs to be improved as well,” said the 22-year-old.

“We’ll continue to work on these areas in training and I’m confident that this will translate into improved performances in time to come.”

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Unity and desire drives young Sailors squad into 2024 WPL Season

The start of the 2024 Deloitte Women’s Premier League (WPL) season is set to signal a new era for the Lion City Sailors Women’s team.

The squad has seen a big shift in players and leadership during the off-season – with a change in head coach and a revamp of its playing squad – but its core value remains the same.

Unity.

The Sailors will face Tiong Bahru in the WPL opener on Saturday (9 March) at Choa Chu Kang Stadium, and with only four fit players over the age of 22, the team’s young guns will be taking center stage. Most of these players were promoted from the Sailors’ Girls Academy, and played in the second-tier Women’s National League (WNL) last season with Mattar Sailors.

One of the more experienced players in the team is vice-captain Ho Hui Xin. The 31-year-old, with more than a decade of playing experience under her belt, has played a crucial role in galvanising the squad during their preparations for the new season.

“We may be categorised as seniors and juniors because of our age and experience. But in reality, we are one big family working together towards the same goal – to retain our WPL title,” said Hui Xin.

“During pre-season, we made sure there was open communication on the field so that everyone understood the importance of their role. We all pulled our weight so that we can move forward together.”

Newly-appointed Head Coach Daniel Ong echoed Hui Xin’s sentiments, highlighting the strong connection within the squad.

“The bond within the team has been very strong. Our commitment to training, the positive mindset that the girls take into every training session, and the trust we have for one another shows that we are ready to defend the title together,” shared the 35-year-old, who took over two-time WPL Coach of the Year Yeong Sheau Shyan in the off-season.

“We’ve a strong leadership group, with our new captain Nur Umairah (Hamdan) being capably assisted by vice-captains Syazwani (Ruzi) and Hui Xin. Their character and know-how of the game is crucial to our team this season.”

The youthful Sailors Women squad has already kicked off 2024 on the right note with a 4-2 victory against WNL champions Royal Arion earlier in January at the Café Football Charity Cup, with new signings Qarissa Putri Ramandhani and Nur Sarah Zu’risqha getting on the scoresheet that evening.

However, the groundwork to integrate the younger players in the team was already laid prior to that game, as the majority of them formed a Sailors Women Selection side that travelled to Selangor for a series of friendly matches against several Malaysian sides last December.

“When the 2023 season ended, we were already getting ready for the young players to be promoted. That was the case after the 2022 season as well. We already knew the players because we trained quite often with them,” shared Hui Xin.

“That trip to Selangor was a good outing because it was the first time that most of us played together in a game. We also had moments for team bonding during the trip, and that really helped the team to be more closely-knitted.”

Despite the seismic shift in playing and backroom personnel, all eyes will still be on the Sailors to defend the WPL title for a third year running. Daniel admits there will inevitably be pressure after two undefeated campaigns from the Sailors Class of 2022 and 2023. However, he insists he has faith in the squad he has.

Natasha Kaur, 14, is the latest addition to the side, bringing the total number of promoted Sailors Girls Academy graduates to seven. She joins the likes of Tyan Foong, Izairida Shakira, Seri Nurinsyirah, Nadia Nuraffendi, Liyana Rickit and Yuvika Suresh in the senior side for 2024.

“The hunger to improve and succeed in these young players is something that really impresses me,” Daniel said. “I’ve the confidence that we’ll continue to display good football and teamwork for the fans to watch. We want to play a modern style of attacking football, and I want them to be even fitter and better as the season progresses.”

Both Daniel and Hui Xin were in agreement that team fitness has been key in their preparations for Saturday’s clash against Tiong Bahru.

“I’m glad the season is starting because pre-season was quite tough,” chuckled Hui Xin.

“If you ask the team, they’ll say fitness and strength (has been the focus). We’ve also been working on passing, finishing, team and individual movement off the ball,” Daniel elaborated.

Having worked hard over the past few weeks to build up a solid backline and a clinical strikeforce, Hui Xin is looking forward to another memorable season with the Sailors.

“The players, coaching and backroom staff may change, but the desire to put up a good performance for our families and the fans has always been the same. We promise you no less than 100 percent commitment, and we’ll fight hard to keep our title.”