Top cats in lions’ den
THERE is a happy problem in the Singapore football squad as they have two agile cats – Lionel Lewis and Hassan Sunny – challenging for the job of keeping goal.
Lions goalkeeping coach Lee Bee Seng, an international in the 1970s, cannot recall a time when the Republic boasted two crack goalkeepers.
Lewis has more or less made the position between the posts his own for the last three years.
But Hassan, 24, is making such a strong challenge that national coach Raddy Avramovic fielded both players in the 5-4 penalty shoot-out win over Vietnam in Wednesday’s friendly match. They were level 2-2 at full-time.
Both gave such good accounts of themselves that the coach is bound to have a selection headache.
Hassan, who keeps goal for S-League club Tampines Rovers, started against Vietnam and kept the Lions in the game with a string of good saves.
Home United’s Lewis came on in the 74th minute and made the crucial penalty stop against Le Phuoc Tu in the shoot-out that won the Tiger Beer Challenge Cup for Singapore.
Avramovic will decide on his first choice only after tomorrow’s friendly against Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur.
Said the Serb: ‘It’s a good situation to have two goalkeepers making a strong case for themselves. At the end of the day, it will be a matter of who is in better form.’
Three decades ago, Eric Paine dominated the woodwork while Lee spent time on the bench.
David Lee reigned supreme in the 1980s to mid-1990s, beating Abdul Malek and Edmund Wee to the No.1 jersey.
When it came to Rezal Hassan’s turn to rule from 1996 to 2003, Adi Salleh and Yazid Yasin tried but failed to dislodge him.
Things are slightly different today as Hassan has kept Lewis on his toes for the past few years despite remaining largely on the sidelines.
Hassan was an automatic choice in 2004, playing in the World Cup qualifiers before Lewis displaced him following a tremendous run of form.
Since then, Lewis has been a virtual ever-present in the Lions’ line-up until Hassan’s strong displays at the end of the season forced him back to the head of the queue.
This time, he intends to grab the chance with both hands, literally.
‘It’s really up to me to make full use of this opportunity now,’ he said. ‘Even though I made my international debut in 2004, I’m not a regular starter.
‘It’s been a long wait but that’s the life of a goalkeeper.”
Lewis, who will be 26 next month, is not prepared to surrender his perch without first putting up a fight.
He said: ‘I’m pleased with my form and will continue to work hard and impress the coach during training. Whoever Avramovic chooses, I will trust his decision.’
Goalkeeping coach Lee feels there is little to separate the two.
In the end, it will boil down to which goalkeeper will be in form when Singapore kick off their Suzuki Cup campaign against Cambodia on Dec 5.
He said: ‘Hassan and Lionel have different qualities but both are good in their own way.
‘Hassan’s asset is his long and accurate goal-kicks. His agile reflexes also mean that he is an excellent shot-stopper.
‘In contrast, Lionel controls the aerial situations superbly. He is calm, composed and very experienced, having played more than 50 times for the country.
‘But it’s still too early to say who will start in the Suzuki Cup as the coaching staff would want to wait and see before making the final decision.’