Football: Singapore 'not afraid' of Eriksson-led Philippines side

Philippines national football coach Sven-Goran Eriksson with Lions coach Fandi Ahmad at their pre-match press conference in Bacolod, the Philippines, on Nov 12, 2018.
Philippines national football coach Sven-Goran Eriksson with Lions coach Fandi Ahmad at their pre-match press conference in Bacolod, the Philippines, on Nov 12, 2018.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

BACOLOD, PHILIPPINES - On paper, the Philippines hold all the aces in Tuesday's (Nov 13) Asean Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup Group B match against Singapore. From home-ground advantage to fresh legs to recent form, the Lions have a tough assignment in Bacolod’s Panaad Stadium.

But Singapore’s interim national coach Fandi Ahmad wants to stir the fighting spirit in his men, to push themselves to the limit to get a result against the odds. “Mentally, we are stronger than ever before,” the 56-year-old said at the pre-match press conference at Bacolod’s Seda Capitol Hotel.

“The players are committed to the team. They don’t want to lose any more, especially after all the flak they had received in recent years.” Friday’s 1-0 win over Indonesia in the opening group game was the Lions’ first competitive win in three years and their first victory in this tournament since 2014.

Ending that long drought has revived confidence. And that is down to the work ethic of the team, who ruffled the Garudas with an intense, high-pressing game.

Fandi said: “The last game (against Indonesia) was a collective effort. Whether as a group or as individuals, the players were solid, they won every tackle and fought very hard for every ball.” That all-action display also got the attention of Philippines coach Sven-Goran Eriksson.

The Swede said: “I am impressed by Singapore. I am not worried but I have to show respect to my opponent. They deserved to win against Indonesia.

“They have a good striker (Ikhsan Fandi) and their wingers (Faris Ramli and Gabriel Quak) are quick. They are very direct and they play good football with good combination play. We have to play very well to win this match.”

Recent history favours Singapore, though. In their last three Cup meetings, the Lions won 1-0 on aggregate in the two-legged semi-final in 2012 while in 2016, they drew 0-0 in the group stage.

But the Azkals are currently riding high on a wave of success. They are 116th in Fifa’s world rankings, 49 places above Singapore, and have qualified for next year’s Asian Cup Finals for the first time.

Eriksson’s appointment last month strengthened the country’s belief that it can finally go one better than the 2010, 2012 and 2014 semi-final appearances and lift the AFF Cup for the first time.

But Fandi does not believe football matches are won or lost on paper, even if tonight’s match is the hosts’ first of this tournament and they are arguably in better physical condition.

He said: “The Philippines have quality and size, and the venue can change the mood of the players. “They have very good players who play overseas and one of the best coaches in the world.

“We will respect them but we will chase every ball to win. We are not afraid. We have nothing to lose but everything to gain.

“It’s an advantage that we have played because we know the pressure while the Philippines are still trying to assemble a team (the participation of star goalkeeper Neil Etheridge from Cardiff City was confirmed only yesterday).

“Our problem is whether we are going to run them (the Philippines) down. They are fresh but we have to have a go at them.”