SINGAPORE – Five huge challenges await the Lionesses at the Asean Football Federation (AFF) Women’s Championship next month in the form of Group A rivals Australia – the 2008 champions – Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and four-time winners Thailand.
With all their rivals ranked above world No. 132 Singapore, head coach Stephen Ng has used their two friendly games against Hong Kong this week to tinker with their line-up and strategy ahead of their big mission in Manila.
A move to a more conservative back-three formation with two wing-backs in their first game against 78th-ranked Hong Kong saw the Lionesses going down 4-0 last Thursday (June 23).
But Ng chose to dig in for the next game on Sunday, making six changes to the side that featured in their first encounter with Hong Kong. While they showed an improved performance, losing 1-0 to the visitors, Ng and his charges have much more work to do ahead of the AFF Championship.
In their second meeting in four days, Hong Kong was quicker to settle into the game, taking the lead in the 22nd minute through forward Tsang Lai Mae Halasan, who scored from a corner.
To the Lionesses’ relief, the scoreline would have been much worse if not for Hong Kong missing a handful of chances that they should have put away.
Despite this, Ng praised his charges for putting in a better showing.
He said: “It was a much improved and settled performance as compared to the first game. We came in with a clear game plan and importantly, the girls worked the system, which is good preparation for us going into the AFF Championship.”
While he acknowledged that there was work to be done ahead of the regional tournament in Manila, Ng is hopeful that the team can build on their games against Hong Kong.
He said: “There will definitely be areas to improve on – it’s an ongoing thing in football matches because as we prepare, other teams are also preparing at the same time. On a whole, the two games helped us get good intensity practices.
“Going into a tournament, the objective is to do well and go as far as we can but of course we have to be realistic, we just have to work hard.”
Singapore’s Putri Nur Syaliza believes that the experience from playing higher-ranked opponents like Hong Kong as well as those they faced at last month’s Hanoi SEA Games has given the team more confidence.
In their first appearance at the SEA Games since 2003, the Lionesses put up a creditable showing, holding their own against teams like Laos (83rd), Myanmar (48th) and five-time SEA Games champions Thailand (43rd) to finish third in the four-team Group B.