Just five days after the team’s opening Group F fixture in the 2023/24 Asian Football Confederation Champions League (ACL), the Lion City Sailors will kick off their 2023 Singapore Cup campaign this Monday (25 September) with their first Group B fixture against Balestier Khalsa at Bishan Stadium. 

While the 2-1 battling loss to Thai League 1 leaders Bangkok United was disappointing, the Sailors have little time to wallow. 

They suffered a disappointing Singapore Cup debut last year, failing to progress out of the group stages. A focused performance will provide the Sailors the best chance at redemption, to claim the other senior domestic trophy still missing from the trophy cabinet at Mattar Road.

“It wasn’t the result that we wanted last year, the fans expected us to do better. They demand a lot from us and that’s a good pressure, it keeps us driving forward,” said Haiqal Pashia, who was part of the Sailors’ Class of 2022.

In stark contrast, last year’s cup campaign was most definitely one to remember for Lionel Tan. The defender was part of the Hougang United side that went the distance and lifted the trophy, claiming the first major trophy in Cheetahs history. 

Now with the Sailors, the 26-year-old hopes that he can forge similar memories with the team, and is confident that a win in the opening match against Bishan neighbours, Balestier, will be invaluable to the team’s cup campaign. 

“We have to fight for this Singapore Cup and get silverware, that’s important for us to boost the team’s morale,” he said. 

“I believe starting on the right foot in the first game will put us in an ideal position to try and do that.”

For Pashia, the Singapore Cup is an important opportunity to bring home some silverware in the 2023 season.

“We need to redeem ourselves. Everyone expects us, especially when they hear the name ‘Sailors’, they expect us to take this cup home,” said the 24-year-old. 

While their memories of the 2022 campaign may be strikingly different, both teammates are united in their belief on two aspects: the ultimate goal is to help the team win the competition, and that their first challenge on Monday against Balestier, will not be a walk in the park. 

The Sailors may have won all three league encounters against the Tigers in 2023, but Balestier have proven to be formidable opponents, breaking down defences across the league with their attacking prowess as they powered to an impressive fourth-place finish in the SPL. 

The Sailors were also not spared from Balestier’s offensive capabilities, conceding a staggering six goals in the Round 2 and 3 fixtures against the Tigers, which ended in 5-4 and 5-2 victories respectively. 

But the Sailors remain confident of starting their Singapore Cup campaign with three points.

“Balestier is not an easy team, especially (with) their attacking ability, they can give us some problems at the back, but I think we are confident that we can manage that,” said Pashia.

“We just have to be focused from the beginning and capitalise on our chances.”

These thoughts were echoed by Lionel, who is also confident that the Sailors have the tools needed to kick off their cup campaign with an important victory. 

“I think we’ll put up a very good fight, and we’ll be there with our best to get the three points.”