Football: Progress key for Sundram

Singapore forward Shawal Anuar (in yellow bib) training ahead of the Lions' Asian Cup qualifier against Bahrain tonight. Anything less than a win will see the Lions eliminated.
Singapore forward Shawal Anuar (in yellow bib) training ahead of the Lions' Asian Cup qualifier against Bahrain tonight. Anything less than a win will see the Lions eliminated.ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Lions' improvement outweighs ignominy of going entire calendar year without winning

He has heard it being muttered throughout the year, and read it in one media report after another, as it gained momentum while 2017 nears its end.

V. Sundram Moorthy's Lions have not won all year and by now, even non-football fans might know that the last time Singapore tasted victory was last November in a friendly against Cambodia.

But as they prepare for the year's final competitive fixture, a Group E Asian Cup qualifier against Bahrain tonight, Sundram bristled at questions on the winless run.

"We've been playing teams like Qatar, Turkmenistan, Lebanon and Hong Kong who are full of (naturalised) players, stronger opponents," he said.

Qatar are 97th in the Fifa world rankings, with Lebanon three behind. Hong Kong are 142nd, all above the 173rd-ranked Lions.

"Performance-wise, the boys are competing with these teams. I believe it's very important to play against stronger opposition. We could have easily played against teams like Laos and Cambodia, but that's not what I want," added Sundram.

He believes his charges have been showing progress on the pitch, even though results have been slow to improve.

HOW S'PORE ARE BETTER NOW

We're very fluid in games now, positionally better, and the boys are improving.

V. SUNDRAM MOORTHY, Lions coach, on the strides his players have made.

CONFIDENCE HIGH FOR SUZUKI CUP

For the Suzuki Cup, I'm definitely confident. Looking at the quality of teams there, we are on a par with them and will compete when we have a full complement of players.

SUNDRAM, looking forward to challenging the region's top teams next year.

"We're very fluid in games now, positionally better, and the boys are improving," said Sundram, who believes this year's experience will stand the Lions in good stead when facing South-east Asian opposition during next year's AFF Suzuki Cup.

"For the Suzuki Cup, I'm definitely confident. Looking at the quality of teams there, we are on par with them and will compete when we have a full complement of players. But we will move forward with what we have," said the 52-year-old.

For now, he is focused on keeping Singapore's fast-fading hopes of qualification for the 2019 Asian Cup Finals alive.

Singapore are bottom of Group E with just two points, four behind third-placed Taiwan, and five points adrift of both Turkmenistan and Bahrain. With just two matches left, the Lions must beat Bahrain to stay in the running.

"What I want to see from the players is character and fighting spirit. We must be energetic, closing down every ball, and running for 90 or 95 minutes," said Sundram.

"The boys are really performing (better) in these last few games and, with another good performance, we should get something."

Singapore captain Hariss Harun sang from the same hymn book, but went one step further, calling for players who pull on the red jersey to take personal responsibility.

"It's not easy to go a whole year without winning, that can get into the heads of players. But as seniors in the team, we're trying to make sure that the team don't dwell on it," said the 26-year-old.

"We are playing with more courage now. It's still not great because we're not getting results, but we're giving it all we've got."

The midfielder also wants more.

"We need a little something extra, and that must come from us, the players, when we step across that line and onto the pitch," the Home United midfielder said.

"If we score the first goal, we will be hard to break down."

Ironically, Singapore's woeful record is what worries Bahrain coach Miroslav Soukup, and he has warned his players against complacency.

He said: "We must respect every team whether it is Singapore or Argentina. Our motivation and target is the same against all teams. I want to win every game because we don't play just for the fun of it.

"Our biggest motivation entering every game is to win."

•Additional reporting by Sharifah Munirah

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 14, 2017, with the headline 'Progress key for Sundram'. Print Edition | Subscribe