National caretaker football coach V. Sundramoorthy's biggest assignment will start with the toughest possible grouping at the Nov 19-Dec 17 Asean Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup.
Singapore have been drawn in the group of death, Group A, with four-time champions Thailand, Indonesia and co-hosts the Philippines, in a draw carried out yesterday in Myanmar.
The route for the Lions in their quest for a record fifth title is fraught with danger, as they need to overcome South-east Asia's two highest-ranked teams, Thailand (No. 121) and the Philippines (No. 135). The biggest obstacle will come from the Thais, who are also the defending champions, and the only South-east Asian country to advance to the third round of the 2018 World Cup qualifiers.
They have also beaten Singapore (No. 158) in the last three meetings.
The Philippines have made the semi-finals at the biennial tournament's past three editions.
Sundram, 50, said: "It is a tough draw for us - Singapore and Thailand are the most successful teams in the history of the AFF Championship."
AFF SUZUKI CUP 2016
• Philippines (co-hosts)
• Myanmar (co-hosts)
• Laos, Timor Leste, Cambodia or Brunei
The top two teams from each group will advance to the last four - the target that Sundram has set for his men.
The coach will not have much time left to experiment with his squad, having handed Lions debuts to forward Amy Recha Pristifana and defender Abdil Qaiyyim during his first six matches in charge.
It is a tough draw for us – Singaporeand Thailand are the most successfulteams in the history of the AFF Championship.
V.SUNDRAMOORTHY, acknowledging the challenge of being drawn in GroupAwith their fellow four-time Cupwinners.
There are six more international friendlies left for him to find his best XI for the Suzuki Cup.
Veteran striker Khairul Amri, who was present at the draw in Yangon, said: "Any of these teams which were drawn into either group earlier today has the ability to win the championship."
Sundram's players will seek to erase memories of their painful 1-3 loss to Malaysia in front of 48,183 home supporters at the National Stadium two years ago. That result saw the Lions, then led by German coach Bernd Stange, crash out of the group stage in their title defence. But Amri, 31, feels that the players have grown stronger since.
He said: "We were very unlucky at the 2014 edition, when we conceded very late penalties against Thailand and Malaysia.
"(But) we had many young players who were then participating in their first international competition, such as Shakir Hamzah, Faris Ramli and Gabriel Quak. They have since matured and coupled with other young talents who have progressed through the youth development system, I am confident (of) a good performance."
The Philippines' team manager Dan Palami does not expect the Lions' recent poor form - they slumped to a shock 1-2 loss to minnows Cambodia last week - to extend till the tournament.
He said: "Singapore always have the capacity to play well and pull off surprises, even against stronger teams. The coach has enough time till November to create the best possible squad and they'll be tough opponents for sure."