A lot of the pre-tournament talk was about finding the correct fit for the right-back role in the Singapore squad and on Friday night, Zulqarnaen Suzliman laid those doubts to rest with a superb performance against Indonesia.
The AFF Suzuki Cup Group B clash saw the four-time champions seal a 1-0 victory over the visitors at the National Stadium at Kallang.
Captain Hariss Harun scored the only goal of the game but a lot of the credit had to go the Singapore defence for executing a game plan which was all about stopping Indonesia’s wingers.
Bima Sakti stressed in the build-up that his team’s tactics revolved around getting the ball down the flanks at pace, before finding Beto Goncalves in the box.
Up against Persib Bandung’s Febri Hariyadi, Zulqarnaen rarely allowed his opponent out of sight, and did his job so well that Bima switched his star winger to the opposite flank for the second half.
The 20-year-old Singaporean defender’s confidence grew as the game went on as he began joining his team on the overlap in the second period.
“Febri came at me a few times but I managed to get into position and in the second half, he switched position so I would say I did a pretty good job against him,” Zulqarnaen told FOX Sports Asia.
“It took me awhile to get some confidence into my play and in the first half, I didn’t push up as much as I should.
“In the second half, I felt a lot more comfortable and started to attack. I managed to put in a couple of good crosses and even found myself in goalscoring opportunities so that has really given me a lot of confidence going into the next match.”
Singapore’s winning start put them in second spot in Group B behind leaders Thailand who crushed Timor-Leste 7-0 in the other match on the night.
Next up for the Lions is the Philippines in Bacolod on Tuesday and another three points could put the Lions in a comfortable position to qualify for the semi-finals.
Zulqarnaen, who will be hoping for a second start in the tournament is raring for another opportunity to continue helping the Lions prove doubters wrong.
“In the friendly matches before the Suzuki Cup, we managed good results but the fans were saying we played weaker teams like Mauritius, Fiji and all so it was really nice to prove to them that we are good enough to win against Indonesia in the Suzuki Cup.” he added.
“Our next game is against Philippines and with their squad full of European-based players, we are in for tough game.
“Having said that, we now have one win behind us and that will allow us to build some momentum and hopefully get a win over there.
“I know that if we go into the game with the right frame of mind, we can handle them.”