Football: Chinese Taipei, not Argentina, are Lions' priority

Irfan Fandi (right) trying to dribble past Hariss Harun in training last week. Before the glamour friendly comes a bread-and-butter qualifier.
Irfan Fandi (right) trying to dribble past Hariss Harun in training last week. Before the glamour friendly comes a bread-and-butter qualifier.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Focus on three points in bid for Asian Cup Finals; Argentina can wait till later, say team

All the buzz in Singapore football in recent weeks has been about meeting Lionel Messi and Co. But the Lions' focus is really on Chinese Taipei, say V. Sundram Moorthy's men.

Centre-back Madhu Mohana, 26, explained to The Straits Times: "Argentina are of secondary importance. Yes, Argentina are the biggest team we are going to play against. There are so many big names whom we always watch on TV, and it'll be played in front of a bigger crowd.

"But it's just a friendly and there's not much to play for.

"Our main thing is that we have to focus on the Chinese Taipei game before Argentina. That's more important and that's our main concern now."

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National coach Sundram reiterated that their priority is on Saturday's AFC Asian Cup qualifying Group E match against the Taiwanese at Jalan Besar Stadium.

So any excitement arising from their June 13 date with Messi, Gonzalo Higuain and Angel di Maria at the National Stadium can wait - at least until after Saturday.

Sundram said: "The Chinese Taipei game is most important for us, not the Argentina game, not the Myanmar (closed-door) friendly game (tomorrow).

WE'RE SERIOUS

Previously, we had our chances, we almost made it but we didn't. So this time, we're really focused on getting there.

DANIEL BENNETT, veteran defender, on the team being determined to get through the qualifiers into the Asian Cup Finals.

"The Argentina game is a different ball game. The boys will be playing against their idols and they are self-motivated for that game."

Veteran defender Daniel Bennett, 39, put it frankly: "Argentina's game is like a showcase, it's not serious.

"Now we are preparing for qualification for a major tournament. It's a big chance for us to qualify for a tournament we have never qualified for before.

"Previously, we had our chances, we almost made it but we didn't. So this time, we're really focused on getting there."

The Lions will continue their quest to qualify for the continental competition for the first time since 1984, which was when the Republic featured automatically as hosts.

Singapore started their campaign with a goal-less away draw with top seeds Bahrain in March. The other team in the group is Turkmenistan.

Sundram's 26-strong squad checked into Amara Hotel for their training camp yesterday. The squad will be trimmed to 23 in the next few days.

While the coach has called up uncapped youngsters including Garena Young Lions' player Hami Syahin Said, 18, he hinted that his selection of players is unlikely to differ much from that Bahrain game. That line-up largely featured a cast of veterans.

Sundram said: "The guys who started against Bahrain did decently well, and I think they deserve another shot."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 05, 2017, with the headline 'Chinese Taipei are Lions' priority'. Print Edition | Subscribe