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Returning LionsXII stars can put Singapore back among SE Asia elite

2016 already is shaping up to be a pivotal year for Singapore football after LionsXII expulsion from the Malaysia Super League.

The last time a Singaporean side exited from Malaysian football, it saw the birth of the S.League in 1996, proving to be a huge success in its formative years.

Meanwhile, the Singapore national team appear to be on the brink of advancing to the third and final round of qualifying for the 2019 AFC Asian Cup in United Arab Emirates, chasing a first appearance since 1984.

So, here are five wishes for Singapore football for 2016.

1. The return of the S.League's glory years

Whether or not you were a fan of the LionsXII project, it did serve its purpose of developing Singapore's brightest youngsters.

Having had to brave hostile crowds on a regular basis, as well as coming up against famous names like Pablo Aimar and Luciano Figueroa, the likes of Madhu Mohana, Hafiz Abu Sujad and Gabriel Quak have gone from precocious talents to recognisable names, regularly featuring in the national team.

Following the exit from the Malaysia Cup in 1994, the nation's top talent were all spread across the various fledgling S.League clubs, with Fandi Ahmad and Kadir Yahaya joining Geylang United [now Geylang International], Malek Awab and Rafi Ali signing for Tampines Rovers. V. Sundramoorthy, Steven Tan and Nazri Nasir moved to Woodlands Wellington, Tiong Bahru United and Sembawang Rangers, respectively -- to name but a few.

Fans may not necessarily support any of current Great Eastern Yeo's S.League teams, but with their favourite stars like Madhu, Hafiz and Gabriel now playing in the S.League , the great hope is that they will shift their allegiances to Warriors FC, Tampines or Geylang.

2. Reclaim Singapore's place amongst SE Asia's elite

It wasn't too long ago when Warriors, when they were known as SAFFC, were not only playing in the AFC Champions League but matching it with the continent's best. A 1-1 draw against Shanghai Shenhua in 2009 and a 2-1 win over Henan Jianye a year later are among their most famous scalps.

In the second-tier AFC Cup, Geylang and Home United both reached the semifinals of the inaugural edition in 2004.

But in the past three seasons, Singapore clubs have won just five of 36 matches in the AFC Cup, losing a staggering 26 in the group stage against opposition they should be more than capable of beating.

With teams often using AFC Cup qualification as one of their standard go-to lines when asked about preseason targets, it is time they show how much they really do want to be there.

This year, it will be down to Tampines Rovers and Balestier Khalsa to fly the flag for Singapore.

3. Bring back the roar to the National Stadium

Giving credit to Singapore coach Bernd Stange, his side are exactly where they want to be in the ongoing Asian Cup qualifiers. With two rounds left to play, they remain in pole position to finish third and advance to the next round.

However, he only has to look at the recently sacked Jose Mourinho to see how quickly things can change, or at Manchester United's under-fire Louis van Gaal to realise that sometimes results are not the only the things that matter to fans.

There are certain instances -- home games against Cambodia and Afghanistan, for example -- where grinding out one-goal victories is just not enough and supporters do have every right to voice their disapproval.

Back at the old National Stadium, the fans were always behind the players -- win, lose or draw -- for what they were producing on the pitch.

Hopefully, it will not be too long before the faithful are entertained once again, for that would naturally bring the famous 'Kallang Roar' back.

4. Promote all aspects of football in Singapore

To be accurate, the 'Kallang Roar' did appear at the National Stadium several times, in fact, in the early days of December.

At the eighth ASEAN Para Games, the Singapore Cerebral Palsy football team captivated the nation with some inspirational displays before finishing with the bronze medal.

The fanfare may have since come to an end, but it should only be the beginning if the team are given the necessary resources and support.

Likewise, there is still plenty that can be done for women's football -- and futsal -- at a high level in Singapore.

5. YOG Cubs of 2010 must take next step

They were heralded as the future of Singapore football in 2010, when they won bronze at the inaugural Youth Olympic Games (YOG) on home soil.

With these young starlets set to turn 21 this year, it is time that they take the next step in their careers, and many of them are indeed well poised for a breakout campaign.

Courts Young Lions' midfielder Ammirul Emmran is one who has already played plenty of football at the top level, while Muhaimin Suhaimi, Hazim Faiz, Illyas Lee, Fashah Iskandar, J. Dhukilan, Brandon Koh and Jonathan Tan have either had a taste of S.League football or have been on the fringes of selection for their respective teams.

With many of them having been promoted from the Prime League roster to the S.League team in 2016, it is imperative they seize the opportunities that come their way and start to deliver on the promise they showed half a dozen years ago.