Football: Sundram sees healthy competition for places in Lions' 3-1 defeat to Qatar

V. Sundram Moorthy believes two lapses in concentration gift-wrapped two goals to the Qataris. ST PHOTO: JONATHAN CHOO

SINGAPORE - National football coach V. Sundram Moorthy believes he has a "good selection problem" as his team lost 3-1 to Qatar in an international friendly on Friday (Oct 6, Singapore time) that is used as a rehearsal for next Tuesday's crucial Asian Cup qualifier against Turkmenistan.

Needing to win or a draw against the Turkmens, ranked 136th by Fifa, to begin clawing out of bottom place in the four-team Group E, the Lions (ranked 162nd) opted to play world No. 85 Qatar to get a measure of the tough mission ahead in Ashgabat.

And while he believes two lapses in concentration gift-wrapped two goals to the Qataris, Sundram feels positives can also be drawn from the defeat.

He told The Straits Times: "This (friendly against Qatar) was an important warm-up ahead of the Turkmenistan game. It gives me an indication of who is ready and who is not."

And his transformation from a defence-minded tactician to an advocate of attacking football continues with a 3-4-3 system at Doha's Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium that places a premium on offensive power.

He singled out forwards Ikhsan Fandi and Safuwan Baharudin, who could also play in defence and midfield, for making an impact after coming on as second-half substitutes.

Ikhsan, an 18-year-old player for Garena Young Lions, is noted for his dribbling while Safuwan, who plays for Malaysian Premier League side PDRM and has scored seven goals in 73 international appearances, is strong in the air and can shoot from distance.

"Ikhsan came on and did well," Sundram noted.

"Safuwan played as an attacker and did very well. They are really competing strongly for starting places and it is a good selection problem for me to have."

Singapore's other options in attack includes current international leading scorer Khairul Amri (32 goals), the hardworking Fazrul Nawaz, tricky winger Faris Ramli and skipper Shahril Ishak.

Forward Almoez Ali scored twice in the 39th and 52nd minutes to give the Gulf side the lead but Faris reduced the deficit in the 53rd minute when he volleyed home after a through pass from midfield.

Centre-back Daniel Bennett nearly equalised when his header off a corner was about to cross the line but Fazrul, who was in an offside position, applied the last touch and the effort was disallowed.

Forward Ahmed Alaadin sealed victory with a penalty with nine minutes remaining.

While he is pleased with the attacking side of the Lions' display, Sundram was disappointed by the generosity of the team's defending.

"Scoring is one thing but concentration for the whole match is crucial," noted the former national striker, who turned 52 on Friday.

"We could have avoided at least two of the goals. From now till the Turkmenistan game, we need to work hard on certain areas. Certainly staying concentrated will be one of those things."

Singapore are bottom of Group E of the third round of the 2019 Asian Cup qualifiers with two points after two draws and one loss.

Bahrain lead the standings with seven points, followed by Turkmenistan (four points) and Chinese Taipei (three points). Only the top two in the group advance to the Finals held in the United Arab Emirates.

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