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Lionesses bank on mix of experience and youth at Asian Games

SINGAPORE – Veterans will line up alongside up-and-coming young talent when the Lionesses make their debut at the Sept 23-Oct 8 Asian Games in Hangzhou.

The provisional squad of 29 players announced in late August comprises familiar faces such as captain Siti Rosnani Azman, midfielder Farhanah Ruhaizat and goalkeeper Noor Kusumawati. Head coach Karim Bencherifa has also called up Sarah Zu’risqha, 17, and Farah Nurzahirah, 19, both of whom made their senior debuts in Singapore’s 1-0 win over Pakistan in July.

Midfielders Dorcas Chu and Mastura Jeilani will also return to the national team – Chu has recovered from an anterior cruciate ligament injury sustained in late 2022, while Mastura makes her comeback after her last appearance in the 2022 SEA Games.

However, they will be without several notable names like Nur Izzati Rosni, Ernie Sontaril and Lila Tan, who ruled themselves out of selection or were dropped from the team.

Danelle Tan, who is playing for German side Borussia Dortmund, will not join the squad as she focuses on her club career, while Putri Nur Syaliza – who attends Oakland University in the United States – will be taking her exams.

The squad has seven uncapped players, several of whom are from the Under-19 team. Bencherifa said that this is part of a post-SEA Games rebuilding phase that involved scouting young talents from the U-16 and U-19 national teams.

Players were also scouted from the Women’s Premier League and second-tier Women’s National League.

The Moroccan said: “Rebuilding after the 2023 SEA Games was critical to ensure the team has the right mix of players to go through the rigour of international football for the long term. We saw the fruits of it in the recent international matches we played, including the one we won against Pakistan.

“Younger players will pick up valuable experience on the international stage, which in turn contributes to their growth and the team’s future strength.”

Tampines Rovers’ Stephanie Gigette is looking forward to the Games, saying: “We are approaching the 2022 Asian Games with an unwavering sense of determination and a strong desire to make our mark on the international stage. Representing Singapore fills us with immense pride, and we are acutely aware of the responsibility we carry as ambassadors of our nation.

“With the support of our fans and the commitment of every player on this team, we are embracing the challenge that the Asian Games present. We are ready to showcase our dedication, sportsmanship, and the progress we have made as a team. This tournament is not just a competition for us; it’s a testament to our hard work, resilience, and the bright future we envision for women’s football in Singapore.”

The team is set to kick off their campaign on Sept 24 against Cambodia, although there is talk that they may pull out of the Asiad. World No. 130 Singapore will then face three-time Asian Games champions North Korea, who are currently unranked and played their last international fixture in 2019. They were last ranked 10th in 2022.

Bencherifa said: “My expectations would be for my players to be competitive, demonstrate their abilities and capabilities on an international stage, and to learn from the experience.

“Since I came, I have seen tremendous spirit and energy in this team, and I am confident they will give nothing but their best shot. Qualifying past the group stage will be historic but let us take each game as they come.”