|By Kenneth Tan
It was their first-ever test against Singaporean opposition, and they could not have picked a harder challenge: toppling defending champions Tampines Rovers.
As part of their preparations to play in the 2013 S.League season, the Harimau Muda B side took on the Stags at Yishun Stadium on Thursday evening and it proved to be a baptism of fire for the young Malaysian boys.
After falling three goals behind in the first half, they huffed and puffed to no avail in the second 45 minutes and had to settle for a 3-0 loss.
The disappointment on the face of coach Razip Ismail after the final whistle was for clear all to see - the way his boys crumbled against the big boys in the league dissatisfied him.
“I’m definitely disappointed with our overall performance today,” he told Goal.com Singapore.
“We played Sime Darby a few days ago and managed to hold them 2-2, so I know they [my team] are capable of playing better.
"Perhaps it was playing against an experienced side and we respected them too much. No matter [whether] you are 18 or 20 or 25, you need to have a strong mentality in your game.”
Despite the loss, Razip acknowledged that the runout was a handy exercise for his boys to realise the standard of the S.League.
His side have registered 10 new players in the squad along with 18 existing players, and Razip admitted that the it would not be easy to meet the Football Association of Malaysia’s (FAM) target of a top-five finish.
“FAM wants us to get the same achievements as the Harimau Muda A side last season but it’s going to be difficult,” he said.
“You can’t compare our team with the A side – they have the exposure of playing in the Slovakian league before playing in the S.League.
"For us, we still lack the experience and maturity in our game [and that is] understandably so with most of them being 18 or 19 and not used to playing high-level football."
Razip did acknowledge the benefits playing in a different league would afford to his side, who finished eighth in the 12-team second-tier Malaysian Premier League last season.
"The S.League’s definitely a harder challenge than the Malaysian Premier League and I hope the players can gain some experience here. It’s good to try and see how we stand in a professional league," he explained.
"If you don’t try, you’ll never know thus me and my players [have] accepted this."
Starlets like Mahali Jasuli and Wan Zack Haikal stood out from Ong Kim Swee’s swashbuckling side last year, fuelling hope of the same from their B side, but Razip declined to single out any individual to make the same impact.
With home matches set to be played in Pasir Gudang instead of Yishun Stadium, where the A side resided in last year, the 50-year-old hopes his side can fully exploit that advantage.
“The environment and the ground will be a good edge for us,” Razip said.
“Having said that, we play every team home and away, so that balances it up. Every game in the S.League will be a hard one and we need to improve our performances in order to achieve our targets.”
Harimau Muda B will take on Balestier Khalsa in their final warm-up game scheduled on this Sunday, February 3 at Toa Payoh Stadium at 5pm.