Football: Aiming to make Sundram proud

Singapore's assistant coach V Sundramoorthy at the International friendly match between Singapore and Myanmar, held at Jalan Besar Stadium on March 24.
Singapore's assistant coach V Sundramoorthy at the International friendly match between Singapore and Myanmar, held at Jalan Besar Stadium on March 24.PHOTO: THE NEW PAPER FILE

Tampines want to reach AFC Cup quarters as farewell present to Lions-bound coach

With V. Sundramoorthy expected to be named caretaker coach of Singapore's national football team this week, his players at Tampines Rovers are determined to give him a worthy farewell.

The Stags will face Mohun Bagan in an Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Cup round of 16 match tonight and the team want to swat the Indian giants aside to send their coach off on a high.

Sundram is widely expected to be unveiled as caretaker national coach this week, and Stags captain Fahrudin Mustafic told The Straits Times: "Football is Sundram's life. Like all of us, he really wants to win and the boys will put up a strong performance for him.

"It'd be great for him if we can send him to the national team on a high note. It's been a long time since a Singapore club qualified for the quarter-finals."

Home United and Singapore Armed Forces FC (now Warriors FC) were the last local teams to reach the final eight, in 2008. The round of 16 involves a one-legged tie, hosted by the group winners from the round-robin stage.

Tonight's game will reunite Tampines with Mohun Bagan, who sent Sundram's men crashing out of the AFC Champions League preliminary round after a 3-1 win in January.

But Sundram, who declined comment on the national team job, is confident of a different outcome in Guwahati this time.

"We were still in pre-season mode then, but we know them much better now. We've been tracking Mohun Bagan and we're better prepared," said the former Singapore international, who joined Tampines in 2014.

"We know what to expect and we have every chance of beating them."

Mohun Bagan finished second in the I-League, which ended last month. But they are entering the match on a high after beating Aizawl FC 5-0 to clinch the Indian Federation Cup, India's biggest cup competition, last Saturday.

Key to the Mariners' cause are wingers Sony Norde and Katsumi Yusa, and strikers Jeje Lalpekhlua and Cornell Glen. All four played major roles in the last meeting between the two teams.

Glen, from Trinidad and Tobago, is the second-highest I-League scorer, with 11 goals. He also scored against Tampines in January.

Japan's Yusa and Indian international Lalpekhlua were also on the scoresheet in that match, while Haitian Norde created numerous chances with his searing wing play.

Fahrudin, a midfielder who has been deployed mostly as a centre-back this season, said Tampines' defenders need to be at the top of their game if they are to come away with a win.

Just like they were two weeks ago, when, needing all three points to reach the round of 16, Sundram's men beat Selangor 1-0.

"We need to be solid at the back like we were against Selangor and not concede silly goals. If we do that, I am confident we can progress," said Fahrudin.

"We've grown as a team. We are more comfortable defending and going forward and against Selangor, the boys proved that they have character in crunch games."

The Stags boast their own trump card in winger Jermaine Pennant. The former English Premier League star has shown that the bigger the stage, the better he plays, expertly pulling the strings against Selangor in front of 11,875 fans at the National Stadium.

Fahrudin, who will take on a player-assistant coach role after Sundram leaves, said: "Jermaine showed he's a player for the big stage. He was in a different class against Selangor and helped the team massively.

"He likes this type of matches and I am confident he will step up."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 24, 2016, with the headline 'Aiming to make Sundram proud'. Print Edition | Subscribe