S.League: Revamped Protectors hyped up for opener against Geylang
Traditional powerhouse Home United are looking to end a 12-year wait for the Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League title as they kick off their 2015 campaign at the Bedok Stadium against Geylang International.
After a season which saw them finish nine points adrift of eventual champions Warriors FC, the squad have gone under a major overhaul with the likes of experienced players Indra Sahdan, Fazrul Nawaz, Lee Kwan-Woo and Bruno Castanheira all released from the club.
In their places are exciting new recruits like Danish forward Ken Ilsø Larsen, ex-Tanjong Pagar United midfielder Kamel Ramdani, former French youth international Ambroise Begue and Nur Hizami Salim, whose prolific form in the Under 21 setup saw him rewarded with a first-team contract.
There is also a new man at the helm with Philippe Aw promoted to take the place of long-serving South Korean coach Lee Lim-Saeng, who handed in his resignation at the end of last season.
Speaking to ESPN FC, the popular former youth coach is bullish that his brand new squad will surprise many along the way despite the decision to bank on youths.
"Of course this being the first game, everyone is excited," he said. "We've been preparing well for this season and everyone is hyped up for this upcoming game. It's going to be a difficult game but I'm confident that we can get a win if the players carry out what we have been doing in training."
However he was keen to acknowledge the threat that the vastly improved Geylang side will pose. The Eagles have been touted as dark horses for the title by some quarters, having strengthened their squad with the likes of Castanheira, Tatsuro Inui and Jozef Kaplan, who returns after short-term spells with Malaysian Premier League side Negri Sembilan and Tampines Rovers.
"As you can see, the foreigners whom they bring have all played before in this league and they know what it'll be like," he commented. "Generally they have a good squad and if they work hard, I don't see why they can't surprise a few people this year - just like Southampton in the English Premier League."
The spotlight is undoubtedly on Ilsø, whose experience playing for Fortuna Dusseldorf in the German Bundesliga, makes him one of the most high-profile foreign signings ever to grace the S.League. Aw believes the 28-year-old has what it takes to stave off the pressure and fire in the goals to aid Home's quest for glory.
"With his experience playing in top leagues in Europe, it is expected that the attention will be on him," he said. "But I'm sure he had faced bigger pressures than this, thus he should do well. His presence is also good for a young striker like Hizami and I really hope he can learn as much from him."
Geylang International Probable Lineup: Yazid Yasin (GK), Anaz Hadee, Yuki Ichikawa, Hafiz Osman, Syed Thaha, Hafiz Nor, Kento Fukuda, Nor Azli Yusoff, Tatsuro Inui, Jozef Kaplan (C), Bruno Castanheira.
Home United Probable Lineup: Hyrulnizam Juma'at (GK), Juma'at Jantan, Abdil Qaiyyim, Noh Rahman (C), Sirina Camara, Imran Sahib, Yasir Hanapi, Song Ui-Young, Kamel Ramdani, Masrezwan Masturi, Ken Ilsø Larsen.