Football: Lions' biggest enemy is fatigue after 10-hour journey to play the Philippines in AFF Suzuki Cup

The Singaporean National Football team at Manila Airport, en route to Bacolod City ahead of their Asean Football Federation Suzuki Cup match against the Philippines, on Nov 10, 2018.
The Singaporean National Football team at Manila Airport, en route to Bacolod City ahead of their Asean Football Federation Suzuki Cup match against the Philippines, on Nov 10, 2018.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

BACOLOD (Philippines) - There was no time for a celebratory supper nor a joyous sing-along.

In the immediate hours after beating Indonesia 1-0 in their Asean Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup opener on Friday (Nov 9), the clock counted down for the Lions' recovery ahead of Tuesday's second Group B game against the Philippines.

It is not crossing swords with the Azkals' big-name coach Sven-Goran Eriksson nor the possibility of facing Cardiff City goalkeeper Neil Etheridge that is uppermost on the minds of the Singapore players.

The team's biggest enemy now is lactic acid and fatigue after a 10-hour journey to the city of Bacolod, where the match will be staged.

Looking and sounding tired after the rigours of the journey was interim national coach Fandi Ahmad, who is now on a mission to keep his troops fresh against the Azkals, who will be playing their opening game at the 20,000-capacity Panaad Stadium.

"It is key for the boys to get good hydration and good rest now," the 56-year-old said.

"Even though we left (Singapore) early, it is still a very hectic trip for us.

"The Philippine team will be fresh and prepared. Their last game was on Nov 6 (a 3-1 closed-door friendly win over Mongolia in the Azkals' training camp in the Cavite province).

"It is all about our mental strength now. We must be prepared for a real tough fight."

The Singapore party of 23 players and 16 officials left their base at the Oasia Hotel in Novena at 7.45am, boarded a 10.30am Philippine Airlines flight, touched down in Manila at 2.30pm, cleared immigration, collected their luggage (all 1,000kg of it), passed security screening, checked in the luggage again, before dashing across to the domestic terminal for the 1hr 15min connecting flight at 3.45pm.

The squad eventually touched down in Bacolod-Silay Airport at 6pm.

On a lighter note, some players managed to, of all things, find a Ya Kun Kaya Toast in the terminal but to the horror of Ikhsan Fandi, who had bought a big packet of kaya butter toast to share with team-mates, the bread came without... kaya butter.

But there is serious business to be done and while there is a sense of fellowship among the Lions, they do need to take care of the tools of their trade for this mission in Bacolod - namely their bodies and boots.

According to Football Association of Singapore head of national teams management Eric Ong, each player is required to bring three pairs of boots along for every overseas match: one pair with six long studs for better traction on wet pitches, a pair with normal studs for general use and a spare.

As an added precaution against lost luggage, the Lions must hand carry at least one pair of cleats when they board the plane.

And every Lion who played in Friday's 1-0 win over Indonesia had to wear a pair of compression tights to aid recovery. A medical team of one physiotherapist, two sports trainers, one masseuse and one sport scientist are on hand to monitor the players' fitness.

Left-back Shakir Hamzah explained: "This is a long journey and the players may be more lethargic after spending so many hours on the plane. The tights will help to prevent cramps.

"It is a tiring trip but we just have to adapt to the conditions. We had travelled further to other countries and once we are in the hotel, we will have time to rest."

The 26-year-old had recently played in the Panaad Stadium, having represented Singapore Premier League club Home United in their 1-1 draw with Ceres-Negros in the Asian Football Confederation Cup Asean Zone final. Home eventually won the tie 3-1 on aggregate.

Shakir warned that the ground can create an intimidating atmosphere on match day, saying: "The fans are very close to the field. That could be a problem if the match gets heated."

But with a win and three points already in the pocket, Fandi believes his men have the fortitude to face the circumstances.

He said: "It will not be easy but the mood in our camp is very good. We want to continue where we left off against Indonesia."