Football: Sundram ends on high note

The Football Association of Singapore has given Sundram the target of reaching the semi-finals of the Asean Football Federation Suzuki Cup. The 50-year-old, however, declined comment on his imminent appointment as Lions coach.
The Football Association of Singapore has given Sundram the target of reaching the semi-finals of the Asean Football Federation Suzuki Cup. The 50-year-old, however, declined comment on his imminent appointment as Lions coach.ST FILE PHOTO

As he prepares to take on the role of caretaker national coach, win in India is a 'farewell gift'

Tampines Rovers will mark life after coach V. Sundramoorthy with a spot in the final eight of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Cup, the first time since 2007.

Sundram, who is set to be announced as the new Singapore national coach tomorrow, showed just why he has been given the nation's top coaching job by masterminding Tampines to a 2-1 extra-time win against India's Mohan Bagan on Tuesday night.

The win was all the more impressive as the Stags were down to 10 men for about an hour against an opponent who had beaten them 3-1 in a AFC Champions League qualifier in January.

 

The winning goal came from Afiq Yunos, who blasted a left-footed shot into the top corner after Jermaine Pennant had drilled a free-kick low across the box deep into extra-time.

Speaking from India before the team's flight back yesterday, Afiq said of Sundram: "The goal was the perfect farewell gift for him.

"He didn't say much after the match, but we knew from his face that he was proud of us and happy with the result."

That strike won the game after Jordan Webb's 63rd-minute cross ended up lobbing the goalkeeper while Mohun Bagan scored an equaliser nine minutes later through a piledriver from midfielder Bikramjit Singh.

The Stags had to grind out the win despite having defender Shakir Hamzah expelled nine minutes into the second half after picking up two yellow cards in three minutes.

Aptly, the Tampines display in India on Tuesday is characteristic of teams drilled by Sundram - strong in set-pieces, tight at the back, though not always pleasing on the eye.

The LionsXII displayed similar traits in 2013 on their way to winning the Malaysian Super League title.

The Football Association of Singapore (FAS) will be hoping that the 50-year-old can do his magic at the Asean Football Federation Suzuki Cup, where the tactician has been given a semi-final target.

Sundram will be presented to the media on Friday afternoon as the national team's caretaker coach by the FAS at Jalan Besar Stadium. He declined comment on his imminent appointment as Lions coach.

Tampines assistant coach Mohammad Akbar, aided by goalkeeper trainer Herman Zailani and captain Fahrudin Mustafic, will assume the reins.

Midfielder Hafiz Sujad, said Sundram's detailed tactics and analysis of opponents will be missed. "He's good in his tactical awareness and study of our opponents," he said, "and he always shares it with us before the game."

Afiq added: "We will still respect and support the coaches who take over. If anything is not right, we can give feedback and talk about it - the club has no problem with this."

With his new role as player-coach, Mustafic is relishing the added responsibility, though he said that there will be no great change from Sundram's coaching style.

He shared: "Each coach has his own style, Akbar has his own way and vision to play; me too. But generally it will be similar (to the overall Sundram style) because these boys have been together for half a year, we know their strengths and what they can do.

"We'll try to continue what is good, and try to add something different to our game. It is a new beginning for us."

Amid the financial troubles that have plagued the club recently, the veteran midfielder said that the key now is to keep the squad together, with the mid-season transfer window open till June 10.

Fahrudin said: "We had three players suspended and injured for the game (against Mohun Bagan), but three new players came in and were fantastic.

"This is important in the long run, you need your squad. We have a really good one, and I hope we keep it that way."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 26, 2016, with the headline 'Sundram ends on high note'. Print Edition | Subscribe