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Dan is still the man for the Lions

Daniel Bennett believes that Singapore can get a win in their next game against Thailand tomorrow.
Daniel Bennett believes that Singapore can get a win in their next game against Thailand tomorrow.

V. Sundramoorthy's biggest achievement as a football coach has been winning the 2013 Malaysian Super League with the LionsXII, a cohort of largely Under-23 players then.

One would expect the national caretaker coach to utilise many of those ex-LionsXII stalwarts - now in their mid-20s - in his first competitive tournament.

Yet, in their starting XI against the Philippines in Saturday's Asean Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup opener, only four players - Shakir Hamzah, Madhu Mohana, Faritz Hameed and Hafiz Sujad - earned their first caps while playing for the now-defunct LionsXII.

That a hardcore group of seasoned veterans - Hassan Sunny, Juma'at Jantan and Khairul Amri - played big roles in the gritty 0-0 draw against the Azkals, spoke volumes about Sundram's belief that the old guard can still deliver.

And one of the old-timers who gave a mammoth performance was Daniel Bennett, the centre-back who earned his 130th cap, to equal Shahril Ishak's record haul.

LEVEL ON CUP WINS

I know everybody is always going on about Thailand, Thailand, Thailand. But we've also won the tournament four times.

DANIEL BENNETT, Lions defender, reminding critics about Singapore's record in the AFF Cup.

Yesterday, the 38-year-old was still annoyed that the Lions did not snatch all three points from the Azkals, saying: "We're disappointed we didn't win the game. To be honest, Hafiz didn't deserve the red card.

"I still think it's a little bit harsh. I can understand why the referee gave it, but I think it's harsh and it ruined the game. Had we had 11 men on the field, we would have beaten them."

Hafiz was given his marching orders in the 35th minute after his high boot caught Phil Younghusband in the chest.

Until that point, the midfielder provided an attacking threat with his runs and delivery down the left flank, but the team camped inside their own half after the dismissal.

For Bennett, it was a necessary evil to preserve a point after plan A was torn up by the red card.

He reasoned: "When you have 10 men, you are forced under pressure to drop deep, it happens everywhere in the world. You watch Manchester United play or any team defending a lead, they all have players behind the ball.

"It's not that we planned to have six players behind the ball, it's just the way it was and we got the result we wanted."

With tournament favourites Thailand coming up tomorrow and an attack-minded Indonesia side on Friday, Bennett knows the Lions need to launch some attacks and pull off at least a win.

He said: "You have got to win a game to qualify (from the group stages). So we either got to beat Thailand or Indonesia. We have got to go out with a positive frame of mind to win one of those games."

The three-time AFF Cup winner (2004, 2007 and 2012) has no fear of the multi-talented War Elephants side.

In his long international career, the only loss in the tournament he experienced against the Thais was the second leg 1-0 defeat in the 2012 final. Even then, Singapore won 3-2 on aggregate.

"We've beaten them many times before," he intoned.

"I know everybody is always going on about Thailand, Thailand, Thailand. But we've also won the tournament four times. (Singapore also won the AFF Cup in 1998.)

"We will go into this game against Thailand to get a result."

Wang Meng Meng

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 21, 2016, with the headline 'Dan is still the man for the Lions'. Print Edition | Subscribe