Sundram to test youngsters as he hangs on to slim hope

Singapore head coach V. Sundram Moorthy (left) giving instructions to Ikhsan Fandi and Irfan Fandi (right) during a session of team training at the Geylang Field.
Singapore head coach V. Sundram Moorthy (left) giving instructions to Ikhsan Fandi and Irfan Fandi (right) during a session of team training at the Geylang Field. ST PHOTO: ZAINAL YAHYA

With their Asian Cup qualification hopes hanging by a thread, coupled with an ageing squad, Singapore head coach V. Sundram Moorthy is injecting some young blood into his team while trying to mastermind an unlikely win against Bahrain.

The core of the national football team are well into their thirties and the tactician has picked five youngsters under the age of 23 in his 25-man squad for tonight's friendly against Lebanon at the National Stadium. The selection will be trimmed to 23 players before next Tuesday's Asian Cup Group E qualifier against Bahrain, also to be played at Kallang.

In last month's 2-1 Asian Cup qualifier defeat at Turkmenistan, Sundram brought along only two players under the age of 23 in brothers Irfan and Ikhsan Fandi (20 and 18 respectively).

This time, the siblings are joined by Tampines Rovers defender Shannon Stephen (23), Home United midfielder Anumanthan Kumar (23) and Garena Young Lions forward Hami Syahin (18).

"The average age of the team is quite high but I am going to give more opportunities to the younger players," said Sundram yesterday after the pre-match press conference for the friendly against Lebanon.

"I definitely want to move forward by injecting some young players gradually. That can only be good for our football.

"There had also been call-ups for players like Shannon and Anders (Aplin), so let's see where we are at the end of the day."

Regular faces missing from the squad are skipper Shahril Ishak, who is sitting out these two matches owing to family commitments, and injured goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud.

After four matches, the Lions are bottom of their Group E qualifying group with two points. Bahrain lead the standings with seven points, ahead of Turkmenistan on goal difference while Chinese Taipei are third with six points.

To qualify for the 2019 finals in the United Arab Emirates, the Lions must win their final two games against Bahrain and Chinese Taipei (away on March 27 next year) but also need the latter to hold the Turkmens and the Central Asians to lose to Bahrain on those two days.

With a -2 goal difference, the goal-shy Lions also have start finding the net to catch Turkmenistan, who have a goal difference of +2.

The Lions, ranked 173rd in the world, last tasted victory in a 1-0 friendly win over Cambodia on Nov 13 last year and in 19 games in charge, Sundram has never won a competitive game while his players have scored a total of 11 goals, never more than one per match.

But the 52-year-old can find comfort from the opening Group E game against Bahrain (ranked 125th) when Singapore defended well to earn a 0-0 draw in Manama.

Sundram said: "We still have a slim chance. From what I have observed during training, the players are all motivated to play for the national team.

"Performances have improved although the results have not. But if we keep working hard, eventually the results will come."

Lebanon's head coach Miodrag Radulovic, whose team are ranked 100th and are leaders in Group B, is not underestimating the Lions.

The Montenegrin said: "The Singapore team have a chance of qualifying. It is good for the coach (Sundram) to try to mix his team, to try some new players.

"I don't think he will play his full team against us but each game you can learn some good things."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 09, 2017, with the headline 'Sundram to test youngsters as he hangs on to slim hope'. Print Edition | Subscribe