Football: Sundram still looking to end dry spell

Lions enter qualifiers after loss to Afghans, but coach happy with Irfan-Safuwan pair-up

Singapore will head into their 2019 AFC Asian Cup football qualifying opener against Bahrain still looking for a first victory since November.

Playing in their first match since their winless AFF Suzuki Cup campaign, the Lions were beaten 2-1 by Afghanistan in an international friendly in Doha on Thursday.

The latest defeat meant that V. Sundramoorthy's men have not won a match since a 1-0 victory over Cambodia in a friendly five months ago.

It was also Sundram's first game in charge of the Lions since receiving a two-year contract extension last Monday. He now owns an unflattering record of two wins, two draws and eight losses since taking over the reins from German coach Bernd Stange last June.

While Sundram is still finding a way to win, the 51-year-old tactician insisted that he could draw positives from the match against Afghanistan.

One of them, he noted, was a new defensive pairing of 19-year-old Irfan Fandi and utility player Safuwan Baharudin, 25.

Shawal Anuar cemented his rapid rise from Geylang reserves in the S-League to the national team, with his first Singapore goal against Afghanistan in only his second international appearance.
Shawal Anuar cemented his rapid rise from Geylang reserves in the S-League to the national team, with his first Singapore goal against Afghanistan in only his second international appearance. ST FILE PHOTO

Sundram hinted that he is still tinkering with his defence options. However, he said: "The positive part of the game was that Irfan had a good showing. The combination between Irfan and Safuwan was a good partnership but there are other options in defence to be considered.

"We will approach every game tactically, keeping in mind the strengths and weaknesses of the opponents."

Despite being known for his defensive discipline, Sundram's rearguard was broken by Sharif Mukhammad after four minutes of the match in blustery conditions at the Al-Sailiya Sports Complex.

Geylang midfielder Shawal Anuar, 25, provided another positive for Singapore when he scored his first international goal in the 47th minute, in his second appearance.

However, Mustafa Azadzoy scored in the 58th minute to put Afghanistan back in front, and they held on to record their second straight victory over the Lions.

Afghanistan also beat Singapore last March in their World Cup qualifying group match.

Singapore will need to regroup quickly as they travel to Bahrain to start their Asian Cup qualifying campaign. Singapore are aiming to qualify for the tournament for the first time since 1984, when they featured automatically as hosts.

Turkmenistan and Chinese Taipei complete Group E.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 25, 2017, with the headline 'Sundram still looking to end dry spell'. Print Edition | Subscribe