Football: Sundram instilling a winning philosophy in Lions

Singapore coach Sundramoorthy watching Sahil Suhaimi (on the ball) and other players during training. He wants them to be tactically smart against superior opposition.
Singapore coach Sundramoorthy watching Sahil Suhaimi (on the ball) and other players during training. He wants them to be tactically smart against superior opposition.ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Sundram wants Lions to be tough to beat and hard to break down in bid to regain AFF Cup

In time to come, 2016 could be known as the year of the footballing underdogs, what with Portugal's Euro 2016 triumph and Leicester City's miracle run to the English Premier League title.

Come Dec 17, the date of the Asean Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup final, V. Sundramoorthy will be hoping to pen the epilogue of this remarkable football chapter.

Noting the impressive results of supposedly weaker nations at Euro 2016, Singapore's caretaker coach said: "The smaller teams at Euro 2016 made the knockout stages by being tactically good and difficult to break down. They punished you on the counter-attack.

"Germany dominated France (in the semi-finals) but who made the final? These are the trends of the game."

One might bristle at a national coach seemingly implying that his team are underdogs, but there is truth in Sundram's outlook. Much has changed in the regional football landscape since Singapore won the AFF title in 2012 for the fourth time.

Holders Thailand, buoyed by a gifted squad, have soared past their rivals and are the only South-east Asian team to reach the third round of the 2018 World Cup qualifiers.

  • NATIONAL TEAM FRIENDLY MATCHES*

  • July 24: v Albirex Niigata FC (Denka Big Swan Stadium, Niigata, Japan)

    July 28: v Cambodia (Olympic Stadium, Phnom Penh, Cambodia)

    *Two more matches will be played against Japanese club teams. Details will be announced at a later date.

This year's Suzuki Cup co-hosts, Myanmar, also boast a golden generation, who qualified for the Fifa Under-20 World Cup in New Zealand last year.

Which is why whipping his team into an organised and hard-to-beat unit is Sundram's priority as the team head to Japan for a 10-day training camp today.

"Technically, the boys are sound. Now it's how they work together as a team, knowing where to be with and without the ball," said Sundram, whose LionsXII side won the 2013 Malaysia Super League title with a league-best defence.

"Of course, against weaker teams, we will take the game to them, but if you play superior opposition, you have to be tactically smart."

That much was evident at the AYA Bank Cup last month, when the Lions were unbeaten against Myanmar and Vietnam in normal time. They lost 0-3 to Vietnam in the final after conceding all three goals in extra time.

On what he expects from his players, Sundram said: "They must always be focused and willing to work hard. They must want to win all the time, even if it's a five-a-side game."

Known for being meticulous almost to a fault, the former Tampines Rovers coach said he has watched every S-League match since his appointment in May.

Last week, he put his 25-man squad through double sessions almost every day. On Friday, in an attack versus defence drill, the attacking team were punished with push-ups whenever they lost the ball "because you must keep the focus even during training".

After seven weeks in his dream gig, Sundram played down the stress usually associated with the Lions coaching hot seat.

He said: "Yes it's different (from club football) because everyone is watching, there is a bigger weight on my shoulders, but I'm doing my best to help Singapore football. I've enjoyed it so far."

He quipped: "Don't tell my bosses, they might give me more stress."

The tension will eventually mount as the Nov 19-Dec 17 Suzuki Cup approaches. For now though, expect the Lions trainer to pore over every resource as he drafts that perfect ending.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 17, 2016, with the headline 'Instilling a winning philosophy'. Print Edition | Subscribe