Match Preview: Eagles Look to Spring Surprise on Cheetahs
"Never write us off." This has become Geylang International's tagline for the 2023 season, after topping the Singapore Premier League, albeit having played a game more than their rivals.
Predicted by bookmakers to finish third from bottom in a nine-team standing, the plucky Eagles have confounded their critics game after game.
After holding their more illustrious neighbours Tampines Rovers to a 1-1 draw in the season opener, the fallen giants - who last won a league title in 2001 - came from behind to thump Young Lions 4-2.
Their never-say-die attitude has been rewarded by a first placing in the table with just two games into the new season.
The two-time league champions hope to continue the promising start when they next face fierce rivals Hougang United at home on Sunday (March 5).
With both Geylang International and Hougang United aspiring to qualify for the AFC Cup through finishing as the third-best local side, it is crucial for the hosts to snatch points from their competitors and establish an early lead in the campaign.
But the Cheetahs are no easy meat as they possess a superior head-to-head record in recent times.
In fact, the 2022 Singapore Cup winners beat the Eagles in six of their last eight meetings - only drawing once and losing the other.
To further raise the odds against a youthful Geylang International side, they were up against a squad who boosted their ranks in the off-season with four Singapore national players, including the duo of Zaiful Nizam and Hazzuwan Halim who just donned the green shirt last year.
For all the challenges that have been thrown at the young team, it might prove to be of one's folly to dismiss their chances of earning a positive result this weekend.
Team news: Akmal Azman faces a two-game ban after being controversially judged to have committed foul play in the previous match against Young Lions. Joining him on the stand are Fadli Kamis and Ahmad Syahir who are nursing their respective injuries.
Player to watch: Naufal Azman - The improvised striker, who is a left winger by trade, has settled into his new role well and his performance was rewarded by his debut goal against Young Lions in mid-week. Naufal's impact in the final third of the field has surpassed expectations as he put his defensive opponents on their toes with his relentless harrassing of the ball and managed to record four shots on target across two games. If the 24-year-old could keep up his performance against the Cheetahs, the striker position is for him to keep.