Three weeks on from their emphatic victory against Kitchee SC in the Asian Football Confederation Champions League (ACL), the Lion City Sailors return to the Bishan Stadium on Saturday (21 October) to take on Tanjong Pagar United in their second Singapore Cup Group B fixture. 

While it has been some time since the team earned its first three points in the 2023/24 edition of Asia’s premier club competition, the resounding performance they put up was a textbook showing of team football, said Maxime Lestienne, who scored his second-ever ACL goal that night. 

“We played together as a team and were very compact, and whenever we got the opportunity to attack, we went together which allowed us to go up 2-0 at the end of the first half,” said the Belgian.

The Sailors’ Singapore Cup opponents, Tanjong Pagar, emerged victorious in their opening Group B clash, running out 2-1 winners over Hougang United at the Jurong East Stadium on 25 September. 

That same night, the Sailors also kicked off their campaign with a resounding 7-0 thumping of Balestier Khalsa at Bishan Stadium.

The results on the first matchday saw both teams shoot to the top of the standings in Group B with 3 points apiece, the Sailors creeping ahead on goal difference. 

The Balestier encounter – that would be remembered for the avalanche of goals – was also a memorable night for 23-year-old Harith Kanadi, who came on as a 71st-minute substitute to make his Sailors’ debut.

“It felt good to get playing time in the Singapore Cup because it’s also been a while since I’ve been able to play, and I’m still adapting to the team,” he said.  

“But it felt good to finally get to play in front of our fans at Bishan Stadium.”

Nearly a month has passed since that opening match, but Harith remained confident that the team is on track to bring home the Singapore Cup.

“We’ve been consistently working hard in training every week, and we all feel confident that we can get the three points again on Saturday,” said Harith.

“Tanjong Pagar is an aggressive side, but we are sure that we will be able to match their aggression and win the game,”

That confidence that Harith describes undoubtedly fills the air in the dressing room, but for Maxime, the trophy they’re chasing means much more than just a piece of silverware to show for the 2023 season. 

Since signing for the club in 2022, the Belgian has made top spot on the league’s assist rankings his own, earned a Player of the Year nomination and has sparked feisty discussions on who, if not him, has been the best foreign player to grace domestic football. 

In 2023, he registered another 21 assists to top the assists charts again, this time adding the Golden Boot award as well, as he finished the season with a league-leading 25 goals. 

Despite all that, the 31-year-old has yet to lift a trophy in Singapore, a fact that he is eager to fix.

“Since I came last year, we haven’t been able to win anything, and for me, it’s important to win something with the club,” said a resolute Maxime. “I came here to win trophies, and I’m ready to give my all to do that.”

Victory against Tanjong Pagar on Saturday would see the Sailors open up a three-point lead at the top of Group B with a game to play. 

But with an encounter with two-time ACL Champions Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors at the Jeonju World Cup Stadium coming just four days later on 25 October, managing fitness levels across the two matches will be critical.

“It’s not easy for us because we have two matches in a very short period, so we will need to focus on Tanjong Pagar without forgetting about Jeonbuk,” added Maxime, who was quick to assure his Sailors have no intentions of letting up in either competition.

“We definitely want to win the Singapore Cup, especially because we couldn’t win the league this year so we will give our 100 percent to bring it home.”