Defending Metfone C-League champions Svay Rieng and last year’s Hun Sen Cup winners Naga Corp have put their domestic campaigns on a hold for at least a week to focus on prestigious 2014 RHB Singapore Cup appearances against two of the Lion City’s heavyweights over the coming few days.
Svay Rieng, who reached Singapore yesterday, will go through prematch drills today ahead of their clash on Wednesday with last year’s S.League runners-up Albirex Niigata, a satellite team of their Japanese namesake club from where most of the players for the Singapore franchise are drawn from.
Svay Rieng’s home form has recorded some wild swings this season, leaving the side slightly worse than mid-table at the halfway stage of the C-League but the team hopes to gear itself up for the battles ahead with a good showing in Singapore’s premier event.
Albirex made a shocking first-round exit last year but the team has firmly set its sights on success this time out.
Winners of the Singapore Cup no less than six times, including their triumph last year, Home United will cross path with the visiting Naga on Friday.
Naga coach Prak Sovannara is regarding the trip to Singapore and a chance to play a strong side like Home United as the much sought after healing process for the team that is enduring some anxieties back home.
The soft-spoken tactician is confident that Naga has as good a chance as any at this stage to win back the MCL honours, but through the prism of a good performance in Singapore he hopes to remotivate his players.
His idea of melding and welding them together is to inspire them to a good show against one of the toughest Singaporean sides.
“I do agree we were a bit apart. We lost some good players – that caused a few minor setbacks,” Prak Sovannara told the Post with his Japanese signing Fukusawa Mashahiro sitting next to him.
“I hope to bring them together in Singapore and I am confident that we will be much stronger on our return than we were before we left.”
Interestingly, the 36-year-old Masahiro, a stocky midfielder with vast international experience, has the rare distinction of having been a member of a Singapore Cup winning team. He was a member of the Singapore Armed Forces Football Club, which later changed its name to Warrior FC, when they won the 2008 edition of the tournament.
It was a particularly great year for Masahiro, who garnered the accolade of SAFFC Player of the Year at the Warriors Nite, marking the club’s annual appreciation dinner.
One of the few Japanese players to play in four out of the six worldwide football confederations, his reputation as a skilful shadow striker in the J-League precedes him even to this day.
A veteran of nearly two decades, he brings to the pitch that winning experience and is willing to work as hard as he can with his teammates.
His celebration after scoring his first goal for Naga two weeks ago against Ministry of National Defence was somewhat muted given the circumstances. Naga were looking down the MND barrel and the Masahiro goal came as a poor consolation very late in the game.
“I wanted to, but I couldn’t last time. I will certainly celebrate next time,” Masahiro told the Post.
Nothing would please his team-mates in general, and Prak Sovannara in particular, if Masahiro relives his old Singapore glory and creates a moment to remember forever, either through his own brilliance or as an inspirational provider to his frontline colleagues.