Football: 'Good test' ahead of cup

National caretaker football coach V. Sundramoorthy talking to his players during a training session. Singapore are drawn in Group A in the AFF Suzuki Cup in November with Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia.
National caretaker football coach V. Sundramoorthy talking to his players during a training session. Singapore are drawn in Group A in the AFF Suzuki Cup in November with Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia.BH FILE PHOTO

Sundram sees positives in Lions' defeat as he steps up preparations for AFF Suzuki Cup

Known for his pragmatic approach to football, national caretaker coach V. Sundramoorthy lived up to his reputation with his team's display against Bahrain yesterday in another clear indication that the Lions will play defensive and direct football in November's Asean Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup.

In their 1-3 loss in Manama, the template was set, with a 4-4-2 formation packed with experience and tactical discipline.

Although defeated, Sundram saw positives in the display, saying: "(Against Bahrain) the team worked well together and I am pleased with our players' efforts and performance. They played and covered for each other in defence and midfield."

Choosing to rely on experience, Sundram fielded veterans Baihakki Khaizan, 32, and 38-year-old Daniel Bennett in central defence while Hassan Sunny was preferred in goal ahead of Izwan Mahbud.

The defensive unit, different from the one fielded in July's 2-1 defeat by Cambodia, performed well to frustrate the hosts. Despite dominating possession throughout the match, Bahrain were unable to carve out clear opportunities.

The backline was helped by the hard-working midfield pairing of captain Hariss Harun and Izzdin Shafiq.

BEST POSSIBLE WAY

We will change our playing styles and formations depending on the availability of key players, injuries, strengths of our opponents, among others.

V. SUNDRAMOORTHY, National team caretaker coach, on his strategy against the Lions' opponents in the AFF Suzuki Cup.

Relying on counter-attacks to go forward against the faster and physically stronger Bahrainis, the Lions equalised through attacking midfielder Safuwan Baharudin. He headed home Baihakki's long pass in the 37th minute.

But Singapore were undone by three penalties and Mohamed Al Romaihi, Abdulla Yaser and Ismail Abdullatif tucked away their spot kicks (11th minute, 50th and 89th) leaving Sundram feeling bitter about the loss.

He said: "It was harsh for our players to concede three penalties in the game, during which we felt certain decisions went against us. I believed we deserved a draw."

Although the Lions put up a spirited display, fouls inside the box from Baihakki and substitute Madhu Mohana saw them give away the first and third penalties.

The former held a Bahraini player from behind while contesting a high ball and Madhu hacked down his attacker inside the area.

Bahrain's second spot kick was a dubious decision when a sea of bodies tangled during a corner.

Sundram had picked Bahrain, ranked 126th in the world, as "a good test" for the Lions as they ramp up preparations for the AFF Suzuki Cup.

Drawn in Group A, Singapore (ranked 159th in the world) will face defending champions Thailand (120th) who boast a high-tempo, short-passing style, a very physical Philippines (134th) team and an unpredictable Indonesia (191st) side.

The Lions' counter-attacking style is expected to be deployed against the War Elephants and Azkals. But Sundram is open to change the team's style if the situation allows.

He said: "We will change our playing styles and formations depending on the availability of key players, injuries, strengths of our opponents, among others.

"While we have a good idea of the squad composition for the Suzuki Cup, we will continue to keep an open approach and monitor the performances of our players before we finalise the team."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 03, 2016, with the headline ''Good test' ahead of cup'. Print Edition | Subscribe