Football: Singapore tuned for Friday's Causeway Challenge against Malaysia; November's Suzuki Cup

(From left) Singapore national caretaker coach V. Sundramoorthy and Lions midfielders Hariss Harun and Gabrial Quak having a chat with DJs Glenn Ong (not pictured) and the Flying Dutchman during ONE FM's morning show. They were promoting Friday's fri
(From left) Singapore national caretaker coach V. Sundramoorthy and Lions midfielders Hariss Harun and Gabrial Quak having a chat with DJs Glenn Ong (not pictured) and the Flying Dutchman during ONE FM's morning show. They were promoting Friday's friendly match against Malaysia, which will take place at the National Stadium.ST PHOTO: CAROLINE CHIA

Even with one win and three defeats in his first four months in charge, Singapore's national caretaker coach V. Sundramoorthy believes his Lions have the right mix of youth and experience to do well at next month's Asean Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup.

And he could not have asked for a spicier clash for his first home game in charge than Friday's Causeway Challenge against the Tigers of Malaysia. The cross-strait rivalry means that the winner of this fight of the big cats will go into the Suzuki Cup with full bragging rights.

But despite the pressure, the former international forward was cheerful and relaxed when he promoted the match yesterday morning with midfielders Hariss Harun and Gabriel Quak on ONE FM's #1 Breakfast Show with DJs Glenn Ong and The Flying Dutchman.

Sundram told The Straits Times: "It will be a proud moment to lead the national team out. It's just four months into the job, I hope the fans can be patient. If the team perform, the results will come.

"This is about a challenge against our arch-rivals. I hope the game will bring our fans together. It will be intense but it will be a good warm-up game that will give the boys good exposure."

Quak, 25, who played in the 1-3 home loss to Malaysia in the 2014 AFF Cup, knows the stakes well.

He said: "That was a game where the form book got thrown out and this Friday is going to be the same. It might be a friendly but the result does matter."

The recent loss to Cambodia in Phnom Penh, the Republic's first to the Angkor Warriors in 44 years, stung. But Sundram, who turns 51 tomorrow, is not too ruffled.

"I think the boys have been playing well. We lost to Cambodia but we were without Hariss and a few other senior players. We were only at 60 per cent strength; it's not a true reflection of what we are capable of," he explained.

Then, he was unable to call up overseas-based senior players Shahril Ishak, Baihakki Khaizan, Hassan Sunny, Safuwan Baharudin and Hariss as the match did not fall on an official Fifa date. For the next two friendlies against Malaysia and Hong Kong four days later, Sundram has recalled Fahrudin Mustafic, who was frozen out by former national coach Bernd Stange and was in the international wilderness for three years.

With Singapore placed in the AFF Cup's Group A alongside co-hosts Philippines, defending champions Thailand and an unpredictable Indonesia, the Lion tamer feels the 35-year-old midfielder still has something to offer.

"It's not just Farra, but (Daniel) Bennett as well," Sundram said of the recalled veterans, who have a combined 205 caps. "They have won the Suzuki Cup three times. They have that winning mentality and it will rub off on the younger ones. Farra has character, he is one who will go out and fight for the team."

Casting his eye on the group, Sundram added: "The Philippines will be tough. They have a number of foreign-born players. They had good results during the World Cup qualifiers, beating Bahrain (2-1) and North Korea (3-2).

"Thailand are flying at the moment and while Indonesia are an unknown quantity, they did beat Malaysia 3-0 (in a friendly) recently.

"It all boils down to ourselves. This is a team that have been together for a while. We have a nice blend of experience and youth. There have been good days and some days that were not so good. But I am keen to find out where I stand as a coach during the Suzuki Cup."

If Sundram is to opt for maximum steel in midfield, he is likely to partner Mustafic with Hariss, fresh from winning his fourth consecutive Malaysian Super League title.

Hunger is no issue for the 25-year-old Johor Darul Takzim man, who said: "I'm lucky and blessed to have won four titles in a row and there are two ways I can go from here - I can be satisfied that I have won a lot or I can still have the appetite to keep winning.

"I know how it feels like to win and I want to keep on winning."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 05, 2016, with the headline 'S'pore tuned up for Causeway Challenge, Suzuki Cup'. Print Edition | Subscribe