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Sailors out for redemption against Young Lions: Rui

The Lion City Sailors are determined to bounce back from Thursday’s (18 July) disappointing defeat to BG Tampines Rovers – their first loss of the 2024/25 Singapore Premier League (SPL) season – when they face the Young Lions at the Jalan Besar Stadium on Monday (22 July) night.

Having ceded top spot to the Stags, the Sailors know just how important it is to secure all three points against the Young Lions in order to keep pace with Gavin Lee’s side in the title race.

To do that, Sailors custodian Zharfan Rohaizad has urged the team to quickly move past the loss to BG Tampines and focus on the task at hand: beating the Young Lions.

“We’d like to say sorry to the fans that they have to endure such a tough night (against BG Tampines) and we as a team acknowledge that we can and should do better as a team. We just have to put this result out of our system as there’s still a long way to go for this season.

“The key for us is to keep moving forward and prepare for what’s coming next. We have to bounce back on Monday with a statement (victory),” Zharfan declared.

While the Sailors will be hoping to put Thursday’s events behind them, it was still a momentous occasion for Rui Pires, as he finally made his SPL debut for the club after recovering from an injury setback in pre-season.

The Portuguese, who came on for captain Hariss Harun in the 65th min, acquitted himself well on the night, bringing much-needed energy and intensity to the heart of the Sailors’ midfield.

The 26-year-old, who signed for the Sailors last July but only featured in the Asian Football Confederation Champions League (ACL), is eager to make up for lost time and help the club achieve their goals this season.

He said, “I’m happy to have played my first game in the SPL, even though it was a disappointing loss. It feels great to be back on the pitch and doing what I do best to help the team.

“Nobody likes to be injured, but it’s a part of football. Often, people don’t see the effort that is put in to recover and I’ve worked extremely hard in the rehabilitation process to finally return to the team.

“Now that I’m back, I’ll do my utmost to perform well and hopefully be at my best in every game.”

Rui believes that having the Young Lions game come so soon after the Sailors’ defeat to BG Tampines is a blessing in disguise, as it allows the team a quick opportunity to get back on the winning track and restore their confidence.

“After a defeat, all of us are really hungry to get out there again to make amends and show that the Lion City Sailors are much better than that,” Rui shared.

“We not only want to secure the three points, but we also want to put up a proper performance to prove ourselves. We’re going to play much better and display our true qualities as a team.”

Rui also paid tribute to the Sailors’ fans for their unwavering support, even during the loss to BG Tampines. He emphasised that this support will serve as motivation for the team to up their ante in the upcoming games.

“Of course, the fans deserve a better representation of our team, and that’s why we’re determined to deliver in the next game and throughout the rest of the season,” Rui said. “We aim to demonstrate that we are the best team in Singapore and we want to keep securing victories, so that our fans can be happy and proud whenever they come to the stadium to watch us.”

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Nur Ain Salleh inspires Sailors Women to comeback victory over title rivals Albirex

There was tension in the air as the Lion City Sailors Women’s team took to the pitch against their Albirex Niigata (S) counterparts at the Choa Chu Kang Stadium on Saturday (20 July) evening.

After all, this was a clash between two teams tied at the top of the Deloitte Women’s Premier League (WPL) table – a victory for either side would provide a crucial advantage in the title race.

And, at the end of 90 exhilarating minutes, it was Daniel Ong’s charges who emerged victorious, securing a 3-1 win and pulling three points clear of Albirex at the top of the table.

But it was far from an easy victory for the Sailors, with Albirex largely in control for much of the first half.

“It’s undeniable that Albirex got the better of us in the first 30 minutes. We were losing the ball in midfield and not exploiting the space well enough,” Daniel recounted. “So we changed our formation, and that allowed us to control the play much better. Credit also goes to the players who were quick to catch onto the new game plan.”

Indeed, Albirex’s early pressure paid off as they broke the deadlock in the 25th minute through midfielder Dhaniyah Qasimah’s powerful long-range strike.

Albirex’s lead, however, did not last long as the Sailors restored parity just seven minutes later. Racing onto Nur Syazwani Ruzi’s pass, 14-year-old Nur Ain Salleh skinned her marker with her blistering pace before calmly finishing past Albirex custodian Nurul Haziqah to draw the Sailors level.

Daniel’s charges seemed to finally find their footing in the second half, and it took only six minutes after the restart for Josephine Ang to give the Sailors the lead via a sumptuous free-kick that found the bottom corner of the net. The goal was Josephine’s 10th of the season, and her third from a direct free-kick.

Ain then got her second goal of the night, and the Sailors’ third, in the 57th minute through slightly fortuitous circumstances, as her teasing cross from the right wing sailed into the back of the net after catching Nurul Haziqah in the Albirex goal off-guard.

The goal proved to be a decisive blow for Albirex, and they were unable to mount a comeback as the Sailors managed the remainder of the game with professionalism.

Ain, who only made her Sailors debut against Tiong Bahru in the last match, admitted to being nervous ahead of such a key game. However, she credited her teammates and the Sailors coaching staff for giving her the guidance and confidence to perform at her best and contribute significantly to the victory.

“I definitely felt the pressure, especially knowing how strong Albirex can be,” Ain, who came on for Miray Altun in the 23rd minute, shared. “But the support from my teammates and coaches really helped me focus. Coach Daniel encouraged me to play without fear, even against defenders who were much bigger than me, and to use my speed. I was both surprised and thrilled to score, as I didn’t expect to!”

Ain’s performance also caught the eye of Daniel, who commended her for her fearless approach to the game despite her young age.

He said, “We all know what she’s (Ain) capable of. This is just her second game for us, but she’s already getting used to the pressures of the WPL by playing against a more physical and experienced side.”

Reflecting on his side’s comeback win, Daniel believes that defeating a formidable team like Albirex under such challenging circumstances will only strengthen his players’ self-belief.

“They came from behind to beat an experienced team that had a player who’s been to the World Cup in Kana (Kitahara), as well as several former and current national team members. I’m sure this win will boost the players’ belief in their ability to compete against top-quality opponents,” Daniel stated.

Ain echoed Daniel’s sentiments, adding, “I think we’ll not only feel more confident and stronger mentally, but also physically now that we’ve overcome one of the toughest challenges of the season.”

Next up for the Sailors Women is a clash against Hougang United on Saturday (27 July) at Choa Chu Kang, as they continue their pursuit of a third straight WPL title.

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Sailors Women ready for epic showdown against title rivals Albirex

It has been an eventful few weeks for Lion City Sailors Women’s Team winger Nur Sarah Zu’risqha.

Just three weeks ago, on 29 June, Sarah scored an impressive five goals for the Sailors Women’s in their 13-0 victory over Tiong Bahru. Then, this past Tuesday (16 July), she was part of the Singapore women’s football team that made history with a 9-0 win over Macau, their largest-ever victory.

Sarah, who was one of 10 Sailors called up to the Lionesses for the international friendly, expressed her pride in representing the country, saying, “It’s always an honour to play for the national team, especially at home. It can be nerve-wracking at times but I do cherish every opportunity to don the national jersey.”

(Photo: Football Association of Singapore)

All things considered, Sarah and the Sailors will be heading into their upcoming Deloitte Women’s Premier League (WPL) clash against title rivals Albirex Niigata (S) this Saturday (20 July) on a high.

But Sarah knows full well the threat that Albirex can pose, having spent the past two years with the White Swans before making the switch to the Sailors this season.

Making the move to the Sailors

Sarah, who turns 18 next Wednesday (24 July), explained that her decision to join the Sailors was a no-brainer, largely because it offered her the opportunity to play with a young squad featuring many players from the national set-up. More importantly, she felt it was the right step forward for her development as a player.

“As a young player myself, it’s fantastic to play with a young squad because I feel that we understand each other better,” said Sarah. “Moreover, the bulk of the Sailors team is made up of players from the youth and senior national teams – quality players I’ve played with before. Hence, we are always put through competitive and rigorous training sessions, which I thoroughly enjoy.

“My friends from the Sailors also told me that besides the high-intensity tactical and technical training they undergo, there are also far more opportunities for overseas exposure. After much consideration, I felt that this move would be best for my personal development.”

Sarah also credited Sailors Head Coach Daniel Ong for giving her the confidence to take the plunge and make the switch.

“I’ve been coached by Coach Daniel in the U19 National team for the past two years, and I know he’s a great coach,” Sarah shared. “So, when he approached me to join the Sailors, it was an easy choice to make. I’ve learnt so much more from him in every aspect of my game, and he always pushes us to our limits.”

However, while Sarah has since established herself as a key part of the team, her initial transition was not without its challenges.

“It was challenging to adapt to the team’s fast-paced style of play, and I wasn’t used to it,” Sarah recounted. “But, by attending training regularly and with the guidance of my teammates, I gradually grew into it. We also had team bonding sessions that helped me integrate better into the team.”

From teammates to rivals

With both the Sailors and Albirex currently tied at the top of the WPL table on 24 points, a victory for either side this weekend at the Choa Chu Kang Stadium will give them a crucial advantage in the race for the title.

Among the key players that Albirex count in their ranks include skipper Rosnani Azman and 2023 Young Player of the Year Dhaniyah Qasimah – both of whom also featured alongside Sarah for the Lioness in their win over Macau.

(Photo: Football Association of Singapore)

Chuckling at the thought of facing the two of them just days after being on the same team, Sarah said, “Nani and Dhaniyah are both top players whom I look up to. We’re friends in the National Team, but when it comes to the game on Saturday, we’ll be opponents. It’s going to be an interesting game because we’ve been at centralised training together for the past two and a half weeks.”

The race for the WPL title heats up

The last time the two teams met, the Sailors had to dig deep to edge out a narrow 2-1 victory. Sarah expects the upcoming clash to be equally tight, but has backed the Sailors to secure a crucial three points that could prove pivotal in the title race.

“We all know that this match could potentially decide who the eventual champions are, so we will give our all to secure the three points,” Sarah declared. “Albirex have been performing well this season, as you can tell from their teamwork, game play and results. We cannot afford to be complacent and let our guard down. The ball is round and anything can happen.

“Winning this game will take us a step towards our goal of winning the league, giving us the opportunity to participate in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Women’s Champions League (AWCL) once again. That’s our team’s objective – to compete against the best in the region every year.”

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Sailors’ 19-game unbeaten domestic run comes to an end

The Lion City Sailors tasted a domestic defeat for the first time in over a year, as they were beaten 5-0 by BG Tampines Rovers in the Singapore Premier League (SPL) at the Bishan Stadium on Thursday (18 July) night.

This loss ended the Sailors’ impressive 19-game unbeaten run in all domestic competitions and saw them relinquish top spot in the SPL to the Stags.

Backed by a raucous home crowd, the Sailors started the first-half brightly, but were soon pegged back by a spirited BG Tampines side, as the game soon devolved into a cagey affair between two evenly-matched teams.

Nonetheless, the Sailors nearly opened the scoring in the 36th minute when forward Lennart Thy unleashed a shot that narrowly missed the target, skimming just wide of the post.

But that was as good as it got for the Sailors, as Gavin Lee’s side seized control of the game with two quickfire goals just before the break.

In-form Tampines striker Boris Kopitović broke the deadlock on the stroke of half time, latching onto a through pass from Irfan Najeeb before calmly slotting the ball past Sailors goalkeeper Zharfan Rohaizad.

The Sailors barely had time to react before the visitors added a second just minutes later, as Glenn Kweh pounced on a loose ball in the box to tap home from close range.

The double blow seemed to leave the Sailors deflated as they headed down the tunnel for half-time.

“Our body language surprised me; it’s not what I expected from my players,” said Sailors Head Coach Aleksandar Ranković. “Whenever we face a setback, this team usually has the strength to bounce back.”

Any hopes for a Sailors comeback in the second half were dashed within 10 minutes of the restart, with Boris, Faris Ramli, and Irfan all getting on the scoresheet to give BG Tampines an unassailable 5-0 lead.

“At the end of the first half, we let in two easy goals, and we started the second half conceding two goals in the same fashion again,” a visibly disappointed Ranko said. “The third and fourth goals came so quickly that it was clear from the bench they mentally broke my players down. By that point, it felt like the game was already over.

“It’s a well-deserved win for BG Tampines… they scored five goals against us and punished our mistakes. The only positive thing from today was that nobody got injured or carded for the wrong reasons.”

Sailors defender Bailey Wright believes that the defeat can ultimately benefit the team if they use it as a learning opportunity.

“A loss like that shouldn’t happen, but they do – It’s part of football,” Bailey mused. “We weren’t anywhere near our best today, and we hold ourselves accountable for the result. The most important thing now is to reflect on what went wrong, identify what we could have done better, and correct our mistakes in the next game. We need to pick ourselves up, and with hard work, dedication, and commitment, we’ll get back on track.”

For now, Ranko is focused on helping his players move past this disappointment, as they shift their attention to their upcoming match against the Young Lions on Monday night (22 July).

Ranko said, “It’s obviously a tough defeat to take, but I’m fully focused on the next game, which is just around the corner. Perhaps having a quick turnaround is beneficial, as it forces us to step up and show some character. It’s only the start of the season — we have to keep pushing forward.”

 

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Jordan-bound: Sailors learn of AFC Women’s Champions League Preliminary Stage opponents

The Lion City Sailors Women’s Team will face opposition from Jordan and India in the inaugural Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Women’s Champions League (AWCL).

At the official draw ceremonies for both the 2024/25 AWCL Preliminary Stage and Group Stage, which took place at the AFC headquarters in Kuala Lumpur earlier this afternoon (18 July), the Sailors Women were placed in Group B of the Preliminary Stage, along with hosts Etihad Club and Odisha FC. 

The matches for the Preliminary Stage are scheduled to be played in Jordan between August 25 and 31.

The group winner will progress into Group C of the tournament’s Group Stage, along with Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City Women’s FC, Japan’s Urawa Red Diamonds Ladies and Chinese Taipei’s Taichung Blue Whale Women’s Football Team – with matches to be played between October 6 and 12. 

While the Sailors Women have been dominant domestically, winning the Deloitte Women’s Premier League (WPL) twice in a row without losing a game in 2022 and 2023, they will likely face a significant challenge in progressing from the Preliminary Stage. 

Nonetheless, Sailors Women Head Coach Daniel Ong has backed his team to rise to the challenge and proudly represent Singapore at the regional level.

“To play in the AWCL has been our target for a long time, so it’s a dream come true for many of our players. Instead of being afraid or wary of the challenge, our girls are extremely excited at the prospect of facing the top teams in the region,” said the 35-year-old.

“While we aspire to reach the Group Stage, what’s more crucial is the development of our players and their ability to play our style of football against higher-level opponents. I’m confident that the team will perform well, and we’ll work very hard in the coming weeks to ensure we enter the competition in peak condition.” 

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Hariss eyes strong Sailors showing against title rivals BG Tampines

It may still be early in the season, but the Lion City Sailors’ clash against BG Tampines Rovers on Thursday (18 July) night at the Bishan Stadium already feels pivotal in both teams’ hunt for the Singapore Premier League (SPL) title.

The Sailors and BG Tampines have started the season nearly identically – with six wins and a draw each, both teams are tied at the top with 19 points, though the Sailors’ superior goal difference currently gives them the edge over their title rivals.

With reigning SPL champions Albirex Niigata (S) struggling for form this season, the Sailors and BG Tampines — both of whom finished as the top two local sides behind Albirex for the past two campaigns — are now considered by many to be favourites for the 2024/25 SPL crown.

As such, a win for either team on Thursday would give them an early advantage in what promises to be a tight and enthralling race for the league title.

Nonetheless, Sailors captain Hariss Harun insists that while the team will be focused on beating Gavin Lee’s side, it is still too early in the season for the result of this match – the first of four league encounters between the two teams – to carry significant weight.

“We’re just completing Round 1 of the matches, so this match isn’t season-defining yet,” said Hariss. “However, things are quite tight at the top, so it’s still important to gain an advantage over them at this stage.

“BG Tampines have recruited well and have quality all over the pitch, but we’re focusing on our strengths and how we can hurt them. As footballers, these are the games everyone wants to play in, and we look forward to putting on another good show for our fans.”

Hariss played a crucial role in the Sailors’ last outing — a 4-2 win over Balestier Khalsa — as he won his side a crucial penalty in injury time. Maxime Lestienne duly converted the spot-kick to give the Sailors a 3-2 lead, before the Belgian scored again minutes later to wrap up the three points.

The dramatic victory over a resolute Tigers side showcased the Sailors’ fighting spirit and togetherness – qualities that Hariss believes will give his side the edge over the Stags when they meet.

The 33-year-old elaborated, “We didn’t play that well (against Balestier), but we kept going, which is testament to the team’s resolve and belief. In a long season like this, we’ll face different challenges and obstacles, so it’s important that we keep fighting to find a way through tricky matches. 

“The victory gives us good momentum heading into the Tampines game, and we need to capitalise on this to secure another three points.”

While acknowledging that there are certain aspects of the Sailors’ game that still need improvement, Hariss is adamant that it is only a matter of time before they iron out their early-season kinks and hit their stride.

“We know that people have high expectations of us. We also have high expectations of ourselves – we know what we can do and where we can improve. There have been a couple of games where our performances were not up to par, but having said that, we are still unbeaten, so it’s a positive start to the season. 

“There’s plenty of time to fine-tune things, and more importantly, we want to peak at the right time as a team.” 

With the Sailors notching up 13 wins in 15 home league matches since returning to the Bishan Stadium in 2023, Hariss believes the Crew is crucial in spurring the Sailors on to victory, and urged the fans to fill the stadium on Thursday with a sea of white and blue.

Hariss said, “We’re grateful to have our fans with us. They have stuck with us through both the good and bad times, and they’re a huge part of the Sailors family. I’m really looking forward to a strong crowd on Thursday night – that’ll give us added motivation and the drive to push harder.

“We promise to give everything, so that our fans can go home with a night to remember.” 

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Sailors secure late win over Tigers to remain top

As the clock ticked down at the Bishan Stadium on Saturday (13 July) night, all eyes were on one man as he calmly placed the ball on the penalty spot.

Maxime Lestienne.

The time on the clock read 92 minutes 36 seconds. The scoreboard showed: Balestier Khalsa 2-2 Lion City Sailors.

One kick was all it would take for the Sailors to secure all three points, to keep them at the top of the Singapore Premier League (SPL). Make no mistake, the pressure was on.

Maxime took a step forward. Then another, and another, and another. With his fourth step, he swung his left leg at the ball and placed it into the bottom corner, leaving a diving Hafiz Ahmad in the Balestier goal grasping at thin air.

Pressure? What pressure?

This was a penalty by a confident player in form, one who has so often produced clutch moments for the Sailors, and who has now scored in six consecutive games.

As it turned out, there was even time after the penalty for Maxime to put the icing on the cake with his second of the night, as he capped off a devastating counter-attacking move in the last minute of the game to secure a 4-2 victory for the Sailors.

The win sees the Sailors remain at the summit of the SPL, level on 19 points with fellow title contenders BG Tampines Rovers, who beat Brunei DPMM 3-0 in the other game played last night.

It also means that the Sailors have extended their unbeaten start to the season, setting up the stage for a blockbuster title clash against BG Tampines coming up next on Thursday (18 July).

While pleased with the dramatic win, Maxime – who also notched himself an assist and was named Man-of-the-Match – believes the Sailors can still improve on their overall display.

Reflecting on the game, he said, “We did our best, but we know that we still haven’t reached the level that we know we are capable of. Nonetheless, maybe in past seasons we would not have won such a game, so we’re happy with the win. However, in our next game (against BG Tampines), we will have to play much better than today.”

Sailors Head Coach Aleksandar Ranković also acknowledged that his side did not play at their best, but gave credit to Balestier for giving them a tough challenge.

“I’m satisfied with the result, but the performance, not so much,” said Ranko. “Especially in the first-half, we had problems…with moving the ball, and this caused us to play at a low tempo.

“Credit must also go to our opponents today. They made it very difficult for us, and they might feel we stole the winner, because that’s what happened. Such games are expected during the season, and again, we faced a strong opponent equally determined to win. Overall, it was a good and exciting match.”

Indeed, Balestier started the game brightly and very nearly took the lead early on through striker Ismail Sassi, whose shot cannoned off the crossbar.

The Sailors – who made two changes to the starting line-up from their 3-0 win over Tanjong Pagar United last weekend, with Song Uiyoung and Sergio Carmona Pérez coming in for Shawal Anuar and Lionel Tan – fashioned their first real opportunity of the game in the 27th minute, when Maxime curled a left-footed shot just wide off the post.

Right at the stroke of half-time, Balestier forward Kodai Tanaka was almost presented with a golden opportunity to score, but Sailors defender Bailey Wright courageously slid in to intercept the ball – crashing into the post in the process – before it could reach the former Sailor.

Ranko’s charges came out of the half-time break looking sharper and hungrier, as they looked to put the visitors under pressure to try and force turnovers in dangerous positions.

In the 52nd minute, Ranko brought on Bart, Shawal Anuar, and Hafiz Nor in an attempt to reinvigorate his side’s attack.

The tactical decision paid off, as just eight minutes later, Bart opened the scoring for the Sailors by pouncing on Lennart Thy’s lofted cross and half-volleying it into the top right corner.

Unfortunately, Bart’s night was cut short not long after, as he had to be substituted after taking a knock.

“He (Bart) scored a goal in a moment that was very important for us.” Ranko said. “But I’m very disappointed that we might lose him in the next match.”

The Sailors were then pegged back, however, as in the 68th minute, Ismail Sassi cut in from the left flank and placed an accurate finish into the bottom corner to draw his side level.

But the equaliser did not dampen the Sailors’ spirits, and they continued to pepper the Tigers’ goal in search of a winner.

The Sailors’ persistence paid off in the 81st minute, when Toni Datković leapt highest to head home Maxime’s outswinging corner, scoring his first-ever goal for the club.

Once again, Balestier struck back just two minutes later, as Sassi smashed in a loose ball after the Sailors failed to clear their lines from a corner.

With a draw looking likely as the game neared its conclusion, the Sailors were handed a lifeline in the 90th minute when captain Hariss Harun earned his side a penalty after being brought down in the box.

Up stepped Maxime – and the rest, as they say, is history.

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Sailors focused on building team’s foundations: Bailey

Timing his jump to perfection, Lion City Sailors centre-back Bailey Wright rose highest in the box to nod home Adam Swandi’s pinpoint corner for his team’s third – and final – goal of the night.

The Australian was immediately embraced by his jubilant teammates, who knew that his 84th-minute goal had just guaranteed them all three points against Tanjong Pagar United.

And so it proved, as the Sailors eventually ran out 3-0 winners against the Jaguars last Sunday (7 July) at the Bishan Stadium.

Notably, this was Bailey’s second goal in consecutive home games, having found the back of the net in the 7-1 thrashing of defending Singapore Premier League (SPL) champions Albirex Niigata (S) last month. With two goals to his name, the 31-year-old has already equalled his goal tally from last season.

Bailey, however, was keen to downplay his individual contribution, and instead emphasised the Sailors’ resilience and tenacity in beating Tanjong Pagar.

“There’s going to be times throughout the season when… we have to find different ways to play and win. I’m happy that I scored that header, but the most important thing for us is to win, and we fully deserved the three points,” said the Australian.

“We could have had more (goals), but I think there’s still more to come from us. It’s still early in the season. We know how good we can be, and we know we can still reach another level. That is what’s driving us in every game – to get better and keep winning.”

It has not gone unnoticed that the Sailors have looked more threatening on set-pieces this season, and Bailey admits that it is an aspect of the game the team has been working hard on.

He explained, “Set pieces are a significant part of football, and considering the quality we have throughout the team – both in terms of the set-piece takers and the players getting on the end of chances – we know we are capable of capitalising more on these opportunities. We’ve discussed it internally, and it’s definitely something that we pay attention to.”

At the other end of the pitch, Bailey has forged a strong partnership with Toni Datković in the heart of the Sailors defence. Despite joining the club in February this year, Toni – who came with experience in Spain’s LaLiga 2 – has quickly established himself as a key presence in the backline alongside Bailey, impressing with his ball-playing abilities and aerial dominance.

Having seen Toni up close in action, Bailey knows just how good the Croatian is.

“From the moment Toni walked in the door, he brought a top mentality. And you can see that on the pitch – he’s real quality.” said Bailey.

Bailey also attributes his on-field partnership with Toni to their strong relationship off the pitch.

“When you have a good relationship with someone off the field, you tend to have a good relationship with them on the pitch,” shared Bailey. “Toni and I get each other without having to say too much at times. When you feel that sense of confidence in your partner, you go out there and have fun. It’s always nice when you’re playing alongside a mate.”

Around this time last year, Bailey travelled more than 10,000km to carve out a new chapter of his career in Singapore with the Sailors.

Despite a rocky start to his Sailors career – he was sent off on his debut – Bailey has since won over the fans with his gutsy, all-action displays in defence. Now with a full pre-season under his belt, the former Sunderland captain is determined to push on even further.

“It was quite an experience, getting a red card on my debut.” Bailey recounted with a chuckle. “It was tough at the start without my family here, and when I got injured. This season though, I’ve had a full pre-season with the club, and now that I have my family living with me, I feel more settled in Singapore.”

Having already lifted both the Singapore Cup and Community Shield with the Sailors, Bailey is eager to add more silverware to his collection.

He stated, “A goal of mine this season is to play well and help the team that wins. It was nice to come here and lift two trophies, but I’m always hungry for more.”

Up next for Bailey and the Sailors is an intriguing encounter against fourth-placed Balestier Khalsa at the Bishan Stadium on Saturday (13 July) evening.

Though the Sailors – who are unbeaten this season – are viewed as the favourites to win, Bailey is under no illusions about the challenge that the Tigers will pose this weekend.

“They (Balestier) are doing well, and we know that they’ll be tough opposition. Overall, I think the league is stronger this season, and we have full respect for everyone we play. We’re well aware of what Balestier are capable of, and I’m looking forward to the game.”

The Tigers have only lost just one out of their six games played so far – a 4-2 defeat to title challengers BG Tampines Rovers. They also possess in-form forward Kodai Tanaka, who has already scored eight goals this season after making a successful recovery from an anterior cruciate ligament injury that kept him out for the majority of 2023 when he was still with the Sailors.

While acknowledging that his former teammate will be a threat for Balestier, Bailey is looking forward to the challenge of keeping him in check.

“We know he (Kodai) is a good player and tough to play against. But as a footballer, that’s what you want. I’m sure he’ll be relishing the challenge as much as I am,” Bailey said.

“Kodai has had a tough time with his injury, but he worked really hard to get himself back fit. It seems like he’s enjoying his football and scoring goals. I’m just happy that he’s back to doing what he loves, because at the end of the day, everyone wants a healthy and happy career.”

Nonetheless, Bailey is confident that his team will be able to come away from the challenge of Balestier with all three points.

“We have a lot of firepower and quality within the team to score, and it’s evident in the strong goal difference we’ve amassed so far,” Bailey noted. “I think we just need to keep doing and executing it better as we continue to improve and practice.

“By continuing to build on the foundation that has brought us success so far, we will grow stronger as a team with each game.”

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Sailors appoint Firdaus Kassim as Under-21 Head Coach

The Lion City Sailors are pleased to announce the appointment of Firdaus Kassim as the club’s new Under-21 Head Coach.

The 37-year-old replaces José Mataix, who leaves the club to take up a coaching role with Saudi Pro League outfit Al-Ettifaq.

Recognised as one of the brightest coaching minds in the local football fraternity, Firdaus brings with him extensive experience from his overseas coaching stints with Thailand’s Muangthong United and the Laos national team. He also previously led Singapore Premier League (SPL) side Hougang United to their first-ever trophy, the 2022 Singapore Cup.

He is also one of the youngest coaches in Asia to attain an Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Professional Coaching Diploma, also known as the AFC Pro-Diploma – the highest level of coaching accreditation issued by the AFC. 

“It’s a proud moment for me to be given this huge responsibility of developing the next generation of players at the Sailors. I’ve always loved working with young talents, and it’s exciting to be here because we have plenty of players with very high potential,” said Firdaus.

“Coach José prepared the team well during pre-season, introducing excellent ideas and implementing the Academy’s playing style. My goal is not only to build on the strong foundation already in place but also to positively influence this group of players. I hope they, in turn, will do the same for the next generation, fostering a culture of mentorship and support within our Academy.”

Firdaus came onboard the Sailors’ Academy earlier this year, taking on the roles of Under-15 Head Coach and Development Coordinator for the Under-13 to Under-18 teams.

It was an enriching experience that left him yearning for more. He elaborated, “I have to say this is by far the best environment I’ve worked in during all my years in coaching. The professionalism here is top-notch.

“We have a diverse group of coaches and players with varying backgrounds and profiles to learn from and share experiences with, and we’re all working towards a common goal.

“I enjoyed coaching the U15 team. The exciting football we played during our recent training camp in Madrid, Spain, showcased how brave and special these players are.”

A firm believer in having players develop as both individuals and as part of a collective, Firdaus’s primary target is to implement a style of play that is aligned with the club’s philosophy.

“Our idea is to always dominate the game, both with and without the ball,” Firdaus explained. “Every player who started playing football at a young age did so because they love having the ball, and found great pleasure in attacking and scoring goals.

“So, I hope we remain competitive against every team, playing with the intention to win while adhering to our style of football. It’s also important to maintain the same joy of playing that the players had as kids. We have a set of ideologies as an Academy about how we want to play, and I want everyone to take ownership of their responsibilities within the system. At the same time, we aim to create flexibility and freedom to allow individuals to flourish.”

Crucially, Firdaus is looking forward to being the bridge between the Academy and the first team. Much like how Academy graduates such as Nathan Mao and Nur Muhammad Asis have established themselves in the club’s senior squad, Firdaus hopes to be able to develop more talent for the Sailors’ first team in the future.

“As a club, we’re focused on developing players through training and leveraging the resources available to us. We aim to create an optimal environment for these players to seamlessly transition into first-team football,” he said.

“The ideal scenario, of course, is for some players to secure moves to overseas clubs to aid in their development as footballers and individuals. However, our primary goal is to produce players who not only break into the first team but also dominate and play a significant role in the club’s future successes, as well as contribute to the Singapore national team.”

Firdaus is now focused on preparing the boys for the resumption of their SPL Under-21 campaign. Having begun the season with a 3-1 win over Balestier Khalsa earlier in May, the Sailors will next take on Albirex Niigata (S) on Monday, 29 July.

Firdaus insists that he will look beyond just the team’s results this season and instead focus on the process of development.

“We have players with high potential, but we need to be patient and remember they’re still in the developmental stage. We should not expect too much from young players too early. Instead, we will balance this by giving them opportunities at the right moments, with a strong support system around them to help them succeed.

“We have to get this process right in order to bring through these talented young players.” 

 

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Second edition of Tasek Sailors Charity Football raises over S$132,000 to empower disadvantaged children and youth in Singapore

Over S$132,000 in donations and sponsorships was raised at the Tasek Sailors Charity Football fundraiser on Sunday, 7 July, with 20 corporations and organisations, along with approximately more than 75 Tasek Sailors youths and their families, coming together for the second edition of the event.

The funds raised will empower and uplift disadvantaged children and youth across Singapore through Tasek Sailors – a collaborative initiative between Lion City Sailors and Tasek Academy and Social Services. Established in June 2023, this initiative aims to provide a comprehensive program that integrates football training with mentorship, academic support, and life skills development.

The multi-dimensional approach is designed to inspire children and youth to dream big, reach their full potential, and positively impact their communities.

After the success of last year’s inaugural event, the second edition of the Tasek Sailors Charity Football tournament returned to the Lion City Sailors Training Centre, with corporate donors and members of the local football community gathering once again in the spirit of the Beautiful Game.

Ms Jane Ittogi, graced the event as Guest of Honour and praised the work of the Tasek Sailors.

Ms Ittogi, who is also the Chair of Tasek Academy and Social Services, said, “The important thing… is that it’s not just about football. As Tasek Sailors continue to make waves, their journey shows us all that doors do open, and dreams can come true with self-belief, perseverance, and support from all. Football, like all sports, is about what we each do, as players, as parents, as teachers, as coaches, as donors, to open doors.”

The fundraiser saw esteemed organisations like JP Morgan, MSIG, Prudential, Deloitte, Singapore Pools, X-Press Feeders and the Ministry of Education (MOE) taking part in the Corporate tournament, with Kstone beating Studio 8 Interior 2-0 in the final to win the tournament.

Former and current Singapore internationals from both the Men’s and Women’s teams, including Lionel Lewis, Aleksandar Duric, Ho Hui Xin, and Zulfahmi Arifin, along with local media personalities Ian Fang and Nicholas Teo, added stardust to the event, as they led the Under-14 to Under-16 youth teams from Tasek Sailors in friendly matches against their counterparts, while also sharing their own personal life journey and giving advice to the young participants.

There were also workshops scheduled for the youths, featuring guest speakers from MOE – Ghazali Abdul Wahab, Noor Aishah Haja Mohideen, Khairunnisa Ismail and Nasrun Mizzy – and entrepreneur Nabill Shukry Johari, who is the founder of Cheekies SG. Participants at these workshops gained insights into entrepreneurship, sports nutrition and leadership.

In addition, selected post-secondary youths took on various event-related roles such as youth team managers and business managers, empowering them with leadership opportunities.

“This is the second time we’re holding this fundraiser and it’s even more meaningful this year with the inclusion of various aspects to enrich the youths that came,” said Lion City Sailors General Manager, Tan Li Yu. “We extend our heartfelt gratitude to all participants and sponsors who contributed to the success of this event. 

“We’re delighted by the support given and we’ll channel the funds raised into further improving the Tasek Sailors program to benefit the youths even more.”

The funds will be channelled towards three key pillars: Enhancing wraparound mentoring support for disadvantaged children and youth, Elevating the quality of the Tasek Sailors football program, and Expanding outreach to include more girls.

The Tasek Sailors have achieved several notable milestones since their inception a year ago. 

The funds raised in 2023 enabled the entity to establish East Centres at Bedok Green Primary School and Manjusri Secondary School, extending self-development opportunities through football to 200 additional children and youth. In total, the initiative has impacted over 750 socially disadvantaged children and youth till date. 

With centres established in the East and West, the Tasek Sailors aim to expand their programme by opening centres in the North and South, making it accessible island-wide.

Exposure to youth competitions was enhanced, with a total of five teams across the East and West centres participating in this year’s inaugural Singapore Youth League in the Under-15 and Under-17 categories. The U15 Tasek Sailors West A Team exceeded expectations by advancing from the classification round to Division 1.

Individuals – both boys and girls – who shone with their potential and dedication received the opportunity to get into the Sailors’ youth setup. Eir’man Aqel, who is now with the Sailors’ Development Centre (DC) Under-12 team,will be going for a 10-day training camp in Portugal in end-2024, while another two – Ziecqy Fadzreeq and Rasul Aufirzuansyah – got into the Sailors’ Football School (FS) 1 team, which competed in the JSSL U11 League and emerged as champions of their division. 

Two girls, Nur Irnissa Munifa and Aniqa Shaista Bte Saufi, have also impressed enough to now be training with the Sailors’ Girls Academy. 

The Tasek U16 girls team recently emerged champions in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Women’s Football Day tournament. They are also participating in the inaugural FAS Women’s Youth League, giving them exposure to both local and expatriate Singapore-based teams like the French Football Academy and ANZA.

Going forward, more training groups will be established to cater to competitive, developmental, and social players. 

“Our goal is to make a lasting impact on the lives of our young participants by offering comprehensive support, high-quality training, and inclusive opportunities that empower them to realise their full potential,” said Muhammad Sufri Ramli, Lead Manager at Tasek Academy and Social Services. 

“By integrating tiered leadership opportunities, psychoeducation, academic support, and increasing the presence of dedicated mentors, we aim to foster long-term personal growth alongside football development for our Tasek children and youth.”