AFF Suzuki Cup 2016

Football: Garudas a test of Lions' focus

(From left) Attackers Shahdan Sulaiman, Khairul Amri and Faris Ramli sprinting during a training session yesterday. National caretaker coach V. Sundramoorthy denied reports of unrest in the team.
(From left) Attackers Shahdan Sulaiman, Khairul Amri and Faris Ramli sprinting during a training session yesterday. National caretaker coach V. Sundramoorthy denied reports of unrest in the team.ST PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI

Sundram hoping resolute defence will heap pressure on Indonesia in crucial group game

And so, it has come to this: 90 minutes to revive Singapore's Asean Football Federation Suzuki Cup hopes and to do what V. Sundramoorthy has been reluctant to do thus far - play attacking football.

The Lions need goals, the fans want them and the players certainly feel they have it in them, but the national caretaker coach is likely to play it safe in the final Group A game against Indonesia tonight.

Sundram has unshakeable faith that an iron defence will lure the Garudas into pouring forward, leaving gaps behind to be exploited. His 4-4-1-1 formation will stay and it will transform into a 6-3-1 once the ball is lost.

Although Indonesia are bottom of the four-nation Group A and are hamstrung by team selection problems as the ongoing Indonesia Super League meant that Alfred Riedl could pick a maximum two players from any club, his men have produced a sparkling offensive game.

That is why Sundram is sticking to his guns, believing that his strategy has worked well, insisting: "It has been a good two matches (drawing 0-0 against the Philippines and losing 0-1 to Thailand). We were unfortunate against the Thais but we are focusing on the job against Indonesia.

  • HOW LIONS CAN PROGRESS

    1

    Draw with Indonesia if Thailand beat the Philippines by two goals or more.


    2

    Beat Indonesia if Thailand beat the Philippines or draw with them.


    3

    Lots will be drawn by the organising committee if Thailand beat the Philippines 1-0 and Singapore draw 2-2 with Indonesia.


    If the Philippines beat Thailand, Singapore - regardless of the result against Indonesia - will be out.

"We are focused on our game and we are trying to get a win. I will analyse Indonesia, look into their weaknesses, try to exploit them and close down their strengths."

The coach also brushed aside any notion that there is unrest in the squad following the benched Baihakki Khaizan's fiery Facebook post that claimed that Sundram and an assistant, said to be Firdaus Kassim, have been giving the defender the cold shoulder.

"We are just focusing on the game," the coach said.

  • Singapore v Indonesia: Key battles

  • MADHU MOHANA V BOAZ SOLOSSA

    The wild-haired Madhu has filled in competently for the sidelined veteran Baihakki Khaizan and is not afraid to take chunks out of strikers with his strong challenges. Boaz has already scored twice in this tournament, adding to the four he had scored since the 2004 edition. The captain is as tough as he looks, is good in the air and an accurate finisher.

    SHAKIR HAMZAH V ANDIK VERMANSYAH

    Left-back Shakir is having a solid tournament locking down his flank and he will need all his pace and stamina to keep up with the Indonesian livewire. Andik, who is just 1.64m, troubles defences with his darting runs and likes to shoot from distance. One of his piledrivers turned out to be the winner in the 1-0 win over the Lions in the 2012 AFF Cup.

    SAFUWAN BAHARUDIN V RUDOLOF BASNA

    The centre-back turned attacking midfielder has been putting in hardworking shifts, but has yet to make a major impact in the opposite box. However, Safuwan will have a good chance to show his technique against Basna. The 1.82m defender has imposing physique, but is uncomfortable on the ball and looks vulnerable to flashes of skill.

The team trained yesterday evening at the Rizal Memorial Stadium, the match venue, and its artificial pitch could be an advantage to the Lions, who are used to playing at Jalan Besar Stadium.

But Sundram disagreed: "These are two different pitches. The one here (in Manila) has more rubber (pellets) that cushion the ball better. To me, it will be a level playing field for both teams.

"I'm positive, the team had a good training session. I could see that the boys have 100 per cent desire and they are looking forward to the game."

History favours the Lions. In seven AFF Cup meetings with Indonesia, Singapore have won four times with only one defeat - a 0-1 loss in a group game in 2012.

But even a win will not be enough as a Philippine victory over defending champions and Group A leaders Thailand in the other game at the Philippine Sports Stadium will send the Lions packing.

Already, War Elephants coach Kiatisuk Senamuang has announced his intention to rest his key players, saying: "We will change some players but the 20 (outfield) players I have are all equally strong and they have the same quality."

The co-hosts, currently second in Group A, have never beaten Thailand at the AFF Cup but coach Thomas Dooley is still targeting an upset, saying: "Thailand are already through, maybe they will be at 90 per cent for this game. You never know.

"We are positive, this is the game that we live for and it means something. My players are ready and they are looking forward to it."

While Sundram remains as guarded as ever, his opposite number Riedl was jolly and used gallows humour to explain the Garudas' situation, saying: "This might be the last press conference from me (if Indonesia are knocked out) but I am not worried. We will not play for a draw."

It takes two to tango but will Sundram dance?

SINGAPORE V INDONESIA

Singtel TV Ch114 & StarHub Ch208, 7.30pm

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 25, 2016, with the headline 'Garudas a test of Lions' focus'. Print Edition | Subscribe