SINGAPORE - Having been given the honour to coach the national football team, Nazri Nasir could not have asked for a more difficult opponent for his debut, one that could turn his dream job into a nightmare.
Facing arch-rivals Malaysia on Wednesday (March 20) in the AirMarine Cup at the Bukit Jalil Stadium, the former national captain is embracing the stress and strain of the fixture though.
"The pressure is like a pleasure," he told The Straits Times on Tuesday from Kuala Lumpur, sounding cheerful. "I am taking this game positively. I see it as a challenge and hope this can rub off on the players."
On March 7, the Football Association of Singapore announced Nazri as the caretaker coach, leading the Lions for this week's AirMarine Cup quadrangular, the team's first outing since Asean Football Federation Suzuki Cup in November 2018.
Singapore will meet Malaysia on Wednesday while Oman play Afghanistan on the same day.
The winners will contest the final on Saturday while the losers will play in the third-place play-off.
Since then, the 48-year-old coach managed to train the squad only twice. The first, a 90-minute session on Monday, focused on small-sided games and finishing.
The second, a one-hour session, was conducted on Tuesday evening to home in on tactics.
Apart from goalkeeper Zaiful Nizam, who is nursing a calf strain, the rest of the 22-strong squad have no injury problems.
The Lions are currently ranked 165th in the world by global football governing body Fifa while Malaysia are two rungs below.
But at the Suzuki Cup in 2018, it was the Tigers who performed better, reaching the final before losing 3-2 to Vietnam while the Lions crashed out at the group stage.
Tigers coach Tan Cheng Hoe told Malaysian media: "Their (the Malaysian players') spirits are high - that's good, but I want to make sure they adapt to the way we play.
"It is different from their clubs. Training sessions have been different for them, but they've adjusted.
"Playing against Singapore is not going to be easy. I've told the boys not to be emotional but just concentrate on the game."
And even though Malaysia have the home advantage and better recent form, Nazri can sense the determination coursing through the Singapore team ahead of the Causeway derby.
He said: "Even from one training session, I can see all players are eager to go. Guys like (Khairul) Amri, (Khairul) Nizam, Yasir (Hanapi), Gabriel (Quak) and Faris (Ramli) all looked very sharp. All players are hungry to be in the first XI.
"We are not going to sit and wait for Malaysia to attack us. We will pressure them from the start. Chances are very few at international games but when they appear, I want the players to be focused and take these chances.
"We are not expecting a draw. Malaysia will be a very tough opponent, this is a very big rivalry and both sides want to win. But I trust my players to deliver."