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Indonesian stints give boost to Lions Jacob Mahler and Song Ui-young

SINGAPORE – For a footballer who scored at the National Stadium for the first time, it seems incredulous that defender Jacob Mahler described scoring Singapore’s second goal against world No. 201 Guam last Thursday as “disappointing”.

Yet, these are the high standards he has set for himself and his team.

He felt the 157th-ranked Lions should have put the tie to bed instead of taking just a 2-1 lead to Dededo for the second leg on Tuesday, after Guam cut the deficit.

The former Young Lions captain, who now plays for Indonesian Liga 1 title challengers Madura United, told The Straits Times: “It’s a surreal feeling for me to score in the National Stadium, and to do that in front of my parents in the crowd made it even more special.

“But it’s disappointing that was the match-winner because we were really in control of the game.”

Born in Copenhagen to a Danish father and Singaporean mother, Mahler moved to Jakarta with his family when he was two.

They relocated to Singapore two years later.

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There has always been that feistiness about him since he started following Manchester United with his dad and idolising Paul Scholes as a boy.

Now 23, his move to Madura in May has further whetted his appetite for success, following five years with perennial Singapore Premier League strugglers Young Lions.

After earning three caps under Fandi Ahmad in 2018, national service and a serious knee injury led to a five-year absence from the Lions squad before a recall against Tajikistan in September.

Mahler, who has two goals from six internationals, felt he has grown as much from losing as he has from winning.

Also adept as a defensive midfielder with Madura, Mahler believes he has also matured as a footballer after playing in Indonesia, where packed stadiums and six-hour bus rides to Yogyakarta for matches are the norm.

He added: “Making that transition from playing for the Young Lions to Madura was a big jump, but it’s been an absolute joy and I feel I have grown a lot.

“There are 18 teams in a very competitive league, where each team can beat any other team. The Indonesian league is a very physical league where there are a lot of tackles and they are very strong.

“I get to play with very good-quality foreigners week-in, week-out and work with Mauricio Souza, who has coached at top clubs in Brazil.

“It’s a different exposure and it makes me feel a lot more professional, because I have to really look at all the small details as I need to pay more attention to what my body needs.”

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National teammate Song Ui-young, another Indonesia-based Lion who joined Persebaya Surabaya in June, extolled the significance of playing in a stronger overseas league which is faster and more direct.

The 29-year-old attacker, who grabbed a Goal of the Week award in August with his club, is set to receive his 20th cap on Tuesday.

He said: “After playing in Thailand and now Indonesia, I have a new perspective and ideas about football, especially now working with former Australia Under-23 coach Josep Gombau at Persebaya.

“As a foreign player, I have bigger responsibilities, so there is bigger pressure but also bigger motivation to play well. These things have helped me improve and put up better performances for club and country.”

National coach Takayuki Nishigaya felt the overseas experiences will only help to broaden the players’ horizons and strengthen the national team.

Expressing confidence that his team will get the job done against Guam, who will continue to try their luck from counter-attacks and set-pieces, the Japanese added: “It is always good to see our national players do well overseas because they find out what they are capable of when outside of their comfort zone.

“Young players who have the opportunity to play in a foreign league should take advantage of it.

“It exposes them to a different type of culture, level of opponents and coaching styles, all of which will help them to grow and become better players.”

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