Sundram places faith in veterans

Daniel Bennett (left) has been recalled by national caretaker coach V. Sundramoorthy for the second time, after he also played in the Lions' Japan tour in July. The 38-year-old believes that experience counts but what is most important is one's perfo
Daniel Bennett (above) has been recalled by national caretaker coach V. Sundramoorthy for the second time, after he also played in the Lions' Japan tour in July. The 38-year-old believes that experience counts but what is most important is one's performance on the pitch.ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

He picks Bennett and five others above 30 to face Bahrain in shaping up Suzuki Cup squad

Two years ago, Singapore took to the AFF Suzuki Cup with a much-vaunted new, short-passing and high-intensity game.

For this year's edition, V. Sundramoorthy is clearly going back to the tried and tested as he bids to win a fifth Suzuki Cup for the country.

This is evident in his recall of 38-year-old Daniel Bennett for the second time - including for tomorrow's friendly against Bahrain in Manama - amid whispers that the national caretaker coach is keen to bring back three other veterans into the national fold.

WHAT REALLY MATTERS

Age is just a number. It's all about the performance.

V. SUNDRAMOORTHY, national football caretaker coach, on picking his team.

The trio supposedly in the 50-year-old's mind are Tampines Rovers duo Fahrudin Mustafic, 35, and Jufri Taha, 31, and Warriors winger Ridhuan Muhammad, 32.

Bennett, a defender, is just one of six players over the age of 30 in Sundram's squad for the Bahrain game. The others are: goalkeeper Hassan Sunny, 32; defender Baihakki Khaizan, 32; defender Juma'at Jantan, 32; midfielder Shahril Ishak, 32; and forward Khairul Amri, 31.

The squad have an average age of 27.

"Age is just a number. It's all about the performance. If the player can perform and achieve what I want, (it means) they will be the best players (for the team)," said Sundram.

"Experience is one part but what's more important is whether you can do the job on the pitch. If they can do the job on the pitch and plus their experience, it'll be an advantage for us.

"(The) majority of the (AFF Suzuki Cup) squad will come from this set of players (travelling to Bahrain). The squad will be finalised in the coming months and we will add on if needed in certain positions."

It is easy to see why Sundram regards Bennett, a three-time AFF Cup winner (2004, 2007 and 2012), as an asset. The Englishman led by example in training on Monday at the Geylang Field, where he was one of the fastest off the blocks in a shuttle-run fitness test.

After more than three years out, the Geylang International defender regained his national team spot for the Lions' Japan tour in July and played as a substitute in their 1-2 loss to Cambodia in Phnom Penh.

Bennett, who owns 125 caps, said: "Of course, experience is important. With a lot of young boys being here, it counts for a lot.

"But what's most important is how you perform on the field. Bahrain are a good team. They're strong and physical, always a very competitive side. It'll be very tough."

Amri, the Garena Young Lions forward who has 105 caps to his name and was also a part of the same three AFF Cup-winning squads as Bennett, agreed.

He said: "We can pass down the experience from our past AFF Cup campaigns. But it'll take some time to impart this knowledge.

"Most of them played in the last AFF Cup and now, they'd have a better picture of what is expected. I hope they can raise their game."

Bahrain have won all five of their previous meetings with Singapore, the most recent being a 2-0 win two years ago in Riffa. They are ranked 126th in the world, 33 places above the Republic.

Sundram relishes the challenge however, saying: "We will come up with a game plan where it'll be difficult for them to break us down. We will keep it tight and make sure that all the players understand the game plan."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 31, 2016, with the headline 'Sundram places faith in veterans'. Print Edition | Subscribe