Football: Stags have to be top notch

Jermaine Pennant (centre) and the Tampines Rovers squad in a training session ahead of the AFC Cup clash with Ceres La Salle today.
Jermaine Pennant (centre) and the Tampines Rovers squad in a training session ahead of the AFC Cup clash with Ceres La Salle today. PHOTO: THE NEW PAPER

Sundram picks team based on performance, even Pennant is not assured of his place

They are the undoubted stars of the Tampines Rovers team but even the likes of Jermaine Pennant and Billy Mehmet are not guaranteed a place in the starting line-up as the Stags go in search of Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Cup glory.

In the last AFC Cup game against Selangor, Tampines coach V. Sundramoorthy left the duo out.

He said: "Pennant had some muscle strain so we didn't want to risk him in the last game.

"As for Billy, I wanted to rest him because he had played four days earlier (against Home United) and I wanted fresh legs.

"It's a marathon season until November so I have to make sure the squad are healthy."

LOOKING FAR AND BEYOND

We don't only want to focus on the league, doing well in the AFC Cup is the next step for us to stamp our authority (in Asia), just like how Johor Darul Takzim did for Malaysia.

ISMADI MUKHTAR, Tampines defender, on his side's continental ambitions.

But he also believes that no one in his star-studded squad is assured of a place in the starting XI, not even his $40,000-a-month signing Pennant.

"We have a squad of players who are all very good and I believe in every player whom I have signed," Sundram said.

"In the last game (against Selangor), the players whom I fielded performed. And when they perform, there will be increased competition for places.

"It's difficult to say who is my first XI and players have to pick themselves to be in the first team.

"We don't go by names. It's all performance-based and no one is guaranteed a place."

With his side top of Group E after two games, Sundram is confident of getting a win when his side take on Filipino champions Ceres La Salle at Jalan Besar Stadium today.

"This is going to be a very tough clash (against Ceres) but it's very important to get the maximum points, especially at home. It's not going to be easy getting points on the road," the 50-year-old former Singapore international told The Straits Times.

Tampines defender Ismadi Mukhtar concurred, saying: "We don't only want to focus on the league, doing well in the AFC Cup is the next step for us to stamp our authority (in Asia), just like how Johor Darul Takzim did for Malaysia."

Even if Sundram does not field his stars tonight, Ceres' Filipino international Stephan Schrock is still wary of the threat the Stags pose to his team.

"Football in the Philipines is still very much in progress and we are clearly the underdogs for the match (against Tampines)," said the 29-year-old, who played in the Bundesliga with 1899 Hoffenheim and Eintracht Frankfurt.

"Pennant is an experienced player who has proven his quality over the years that he played in England. Rather than focus on one player, it's better to focus on all 11 players."

Ceres will be playing their second away game in a space of seven days and coach Franklin Muesca lamented the fatigue his players are experiencing.

"We were supposed to travel directly from Bangladesh (after their game against Sheikh Jamal Dhanmondi last Tuesday) to Singapore so that we could have enough rest, but we were stuck at the Bangladeshi airport for five hours," the 48-year-old explained.

"We ended up going back to the Philipines and from there, we travelled again to Singapore, so you will see the exhaustion among our players.

"But we will try our best to give them a quality game and continue our good performance from the last game (where Ceres won 2-0 against Sheikh Jamal Dhanmondi in the AFC Cup)."


TAMPINES V CERES LA SALLE

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 15, 2016, with the headline 'Stags have to be top notch'. Print Edition | Subscribe