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Ahead of Saturday evening’s crucial first leg in Manila, Goal.com Singapore takes a closer look at the key areas where the match could be won or lost for the Lions

SPECIAL
By Kenneth Tan
@KennerveT
BAIHAKKI KHAIZAN
vs PHIL YOUNGHUSBAND
 

Slowly but surely, the younger of the Younghusband brothers is beginning to find that extra spring in his step. After two goalless outings in the first two games, Phil ended the drought in style against Myanmar, immaculately controlling a long ball with his left foot, he then dragged it past his marker with his right and duly applied the finishing move with his left.

With nearly 30 goals in 40-over appearances, the goal threat of the 25-year-old should not be in question.

After a confident start to the tournament, the way Singapore conceded three goals against Laos was indeed worrying. Thus ‘Bai’ will need to summon the experience accumulated from his near-century of caps to hold the Lions' fort and stop Phil from inflicting damage on them.

SHAIFUL ESAH
vs JAMES YOUNGHUSBAND
 

Similarly, despite an unimpressive start to the tournament, one should not write off the attacking qualities of the older of the Younghusband brothers. Incisive running and good delivery of crosses means the Azkals do pose a threat from out wide – a key problem for the Lions.

As was most evident in the last two games, the flanks have been exposed by fleet-footed attackers and thus the expected return of Shaiful to the starting lineup will be a big boost for the Lions.

Famed for his classy left peg that has already provided two assists in this tournament, the 26-year-old will need to shine in the other side of his game against the classy Azkals attacker.

ISA HALIM
vs JASON DE JONG
 

Despite being relatively young at the age of 22, this is already the third tournament that De Jong has played in for the Azkals, and this tournament could prove to be the coming of age for the Philippines U-23 skipper.

He has made full use of his aggressive style in the middle of the park – stifling the Viets and Burmese in successive games, as well as setting up Phil for the opening goal in the latter game.

With hardman Hariss Harun already ruled out of the tournament, the spotlight falls on Isa who is expected to earn his first start in this edition.

Whether Singapore will win this midfield battle will depends heavily on Isa Halim’s energy and ability to strike up a partnership with Mustafic Fahrudin.

SHAHRIL ISHAK
vs ROB GIER
 

There is no doubt this name will be the most talked-about on most Filipino lips in the build-up to matchday: left foot, right foot, header – the Singapore captain has produced superb finishing in this edition so far.

Just sitting off the frontman in a supporting role, the 28-year-old is expected to come up against Philippines captain Rob Gier en-route to leading counter-attacks.

With massive experience gained from playing in the English lower leagues in the earlier part of his career, the 31-year-old possesses astute reading of the game and is a calming influence at the back for the Azkals.

The duel between him and Shahril will prove to be the most pivotal part of this game.

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