AFF Suzuki Cup 2016

More surprises in store

Yasir Hanapi (centre), Baihakki Khaizan (left), who both came on as substitutes, and the rest of the reserves training at Ateneo University in Quezon City. The Lions pulled off a surprise draw against the Philippines but the free-scoring Thais will b
Yasir Hanapi (centre), Baihakki Khaizan (left), who both came on as substitutes, and the rest of the reserves training at Ateneo University in Quezon City. The Lions pulled off a surprise draw against the Philippines but the free-scoring Thais will be much tougher rivals.ST PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI

Sundram defends tactics in draw, with possibility Yasir may replace Amri up front

He had stirred up a hornets' nest, but Singapore's national caretaker coach V. Sundramoorthy is calmly walking on through the flak.

Although the Lions eked out a gritty 0-0 draw against the Philippines in their Asean Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup opener on Saturday, the tactician came under fire for what is perceived as ultra-defensive and time-delaying tactics to frustrate the co-hosts.

The partisan crowd of just over 4,000 at the Philippine Sports Stadium in Bocaue had howled in disapproval, as the Lions tried all sorts of antics to eat up the dying minutes of Saturday's match.

Azkals coach Thomas Dooley also accused his opposite number of "parking the bus" during his post-match media conference.

Yet, Sundram was in a jolly mood yesterday, after avoiding defeat and earning a point.

"If (fans and critics) don't understand, that means they are not watching football lah," he said.

Although jovial and friendly, Sundram has remained guarded on his AFF Cup tactics. He reveals little of his team selections ahead of games and unveils his first XI to the Lions only before or after lunch on match days.

Against the Philippines, the 51-year-old sprung some tactical surprises, such as tackling the Azkals with a six-man defence, defending deep even when it became apparent that Dooley's team struggled to impose themselves.

Still, Sundram insisted that his hand was forced by the 35th- minute sending-off of midfielder Hafiz Sujad for a high boot on Phil Younghusband, saying: "With 10 players, it was difficult."

Yesterday, the Lions who had played against the Philippines were given time off to recover while the balance of the 23-member squad trained at Ateneo University.

It is believed that the tactician has more surprises up his sleeves for tomorrow's Group A clash against leaders Thailand, as he may withdraw lone striker Khairul Amri and field energetic midfielder Yasir Hanapi up front instead.

Kiatisuk Senamuang's talented ensemble is overflowing with offensive strength, with players like speedy dribbler Chanathip Songkrasin, midfield schemer Sarach Yooyen, left-footed wizard Theerathon Bunmathan and striker Teerasil Dangda, who netted a hat-trick in the opening 4-2 win over Indonesia.

Even if the Thai coach had recognised that his three-man defence can be troubled by crosses, it is still a question mark if the Lions will be instructed to venture forward.

Should Singapore concede a goal against the War Elephants (both sides have won four AFF Cups), their recent record of scoring just twice in their last five games will be a millstone around their necks.

Sundram, as usual, will not show his hand until match day. He said with a laugh: "Against Thailand, we will assess the opponent and we'll come up with a plan. It's for you to think about it."

The guessing game continues in Manila, while the stakes are getting higher.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 21, 2016, with the headline 'More surprises in store'. Print Edition | Subscribe