Football: Lions gain from tough tests in Japan

National caretaker coach V. Sundramoorthy training the Lions on July 16.
National caretaker coach V. Sundramoorthy training the Lions on July 16.PHOTO: ST FILE

Despite only going up against university-level teams, the first week of the Lions' Japan training camp proved an invaluable opportunity for national caretaker coach V. Sundramoorthy to shuffle his squad around and give them some much-needed experience.

In their two training matches against Niigata University of Health and Welfare (2-3) and Japan Soccer College (2-0) on Wednesday and Thursday respectively, 23 out of the 25-man Singapore squad were given playing time.

Sundram said: "This week has been useful for us to try out various formations and combinations and see how they work against strong opponents.

"We have seen many options - for example in the central defence positions - and that is a happy problem.

"It has also allowed the players to gain match time, especially for those who have not played together as an unit for the national team.

"I'm happy to see my players working hard - both in training and during the games."

Singapore will take on Albirex Niigata at the Denka Big Swan Stadium today and Sundram is relishing the challenge.

The 50-year-old said: "This is an opportunity for the players to express themselves and show their abilities playing against a (J-League) team."

"I hope that after the game, I will have a strong indication of the pool of players that I have and I am sure I will have a selection headache for the upcoming national team preparations. The team is motivated to do their best and put up a good fight against Albirex."

Singapore and Garena Young Lions forward Khairul Amri also feels the team's time in Japan will be helpful, especially with the year-end Asean Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup looming, for which Sundram had set a semi-final target.

"Our time in Japan has been very fruitful and the boys have settled in well together. The training matches were tough tests that will be beneficial for the team and the Albirex match will be a big challenge but we are looking forward," said the 31-year-old.

Amri also said the Lions - missing five key seniors based with overseas clubs in Hassan Sunny, Safuwan Baharudin, Hariss Harun, Shahril Ishak and Baihakki Khaizan - are still a work in progress but will rise to the occasion when it most matters.

He said: "Right now, our team have gelled together well but there is still room for improvement. It is important that we work our way up slowly and peak at the right time - that will be at the AFF Suzuki Cup."

Yogaraj Panditurai

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 24, 2016, with the headline 'Lions gain from tough tests in Japan'. Print Edition | Subscribe