AFF Suzuki Cup 2016

Suzuki Cup: Lions likely to put up stiff resistance against Thailand

Sundram says he doesn't fear Thais but is set to 'park the bus' again against starry rivals

Thailand footballers Teerasil Dangda (right) and Charyl Chappuis during a training session at the Philippines Sports Stadium yesterday. Teerasil starred with a hat-trick in his side’s 4-2 win against Indonesia in the opening match of the AFF Suzuki
Thailand footballers Teerasil Dangda (right) and Charyl Chappuis during a training session at the Philippines Sports Stadium yesterday. Teerasil starred with a hat-trick in his side’s 4-2 win against Indonesia in the opening match of the AFF Suzuki Cup last Saturday.ST PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI

Tonight, the paradox of an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object will be played out at the Philippine Sports Stadium. But in a clash of philosophies between attacking verve and defensive rigor, the outcome could well be inertia.

In the blue corner, Thailand are refined and riveting to watch as they hunt for goals. And in the red corner, Singapore will be ruthless and remorseless in their approach to nullify all opponents.

The War Elephants started this Asean Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup with a rampant 4-2 win over Indonesia. The Lions neutralised co-hosts Philippines 0-0.

The stalls have been set, their intentions clear. Both are four-time tournament winners, both are led by their former star strikers.


V. Sundramoorthy and Kiatisuk Senamuang were both flashy players but as coaches, they are like chalk and cheese.

  • Thailand v Singapore: Key battles


    The England-born defender was colossal in holding the fort in the goal-less draw against the Philippines. Bennett, 38, was spot-on in his reading of the game and timing of his tackles. But he faces a real fox in the box in Teerasil, who terrorised Indonesia with a hat-trick in the Thais' 4-2 win. The 28-year-old, who played for Spanish side Almeria in La Liga two years ago, has all the tools of a top striker - clever movement, close control and a clinical right foot.


    Sarach is the key to Thailand's game plan by circulating the ball rapidly and accurately. The midfielder dictates the tempo, is a hard man to dispossess and is arguably the finest playmaker in this competition. Anu, the S-League's Young Player of the Year this year, is the complete opposite. He is a fighter with real bite in his tackle. Still inexperienced with just 10 caps, the 22-year-old will introduce himself to Sarach with some meaty challenges.


    While Singapore has limited attacking threat in this AFF Cup, Safuwan's offensive power cannot be ignored. The 25-year-old is very strong in the air and he has been training hard to curl those 25m free kicks into the top corner. Facing him is Thailand's top cat Kawin, a man whose acrobatics earned him the nickname "The Flying Kawin". The goalkeeper will have to be alert as Singapore attacks only sporadically but could well land a knockout blow when least expected.

"We will play entertaining football," the Thai declared yesterday. "I know Sundram well since my playing days. This will be a hard game. Singapore have one point and they will fight. But we want the three points."

Typical of his hush-hush media strategy at this AFF Cup, Sundram revealed little of his plans, preferring to use humour to deflect questions. He joked: "Zico (Kiatisuk's nickname) still looks great. If he is Singaporean, I would put him in the team."

It was said in jest, but so dire is the Lions' lack of fire-power that the 51-year-old tactician considers a frontal assault suicidal.

Although Kiatisuk praised striker Khairul Amri, the only man to score in three AFF Cup finals (2004, 2007 and 2012) including twice against Thailand - as "a superstar of Asean football", Sundram is toying with the idea of using dynamic midfielder Yasir Hanapi up front instead of the veteran.

The Lions look set to retain their six-man rearguard of Juma'at Jantan, Faritz Hameed, Madhu Mohana, Daniel Bennett, Shakir Hamzah and winger Faris Ramli replacing the suspended Hafiz Sujad, to shield goalkeeper Hassan Sunny in a 6-2-1-1 system.

Hariss Harun and M. Anumanthan will double-lock the midfield with Safuwan Baharudin and a forward given licence to attack.

"We will come up with something and we will try to come up with the points," was all Sundram would say of his plan. "Thailand have many good players, I can't really single one out. They work for one another and use one another's strengths.

"We respect our opponent but we don't fear them. We will go out to battle."

Similarly, 43-year-old Kiatisuk revealed little about his strategy.

It is unlikely he will veer away from his preferred 3-5-2 system that dominates midfield. Left midfielder Theerathon Bunmathan may not be fully fit but the coach has a ready replacement in Kroekit Thaweekarn, who is a scoring threat with seven goals in 29 international appearances.

The coach could also encourage attacking midfielder Chanathip Songkrasin, whose dribbling skills and 1.58m stature has drawn comparisons with Lionel Messi, to run at the Lions and drag defenders out of their positions.

But the Thais also have a Plan B. After conceding two goals to crosses in the win over Indonesia, the defending champions have trained with a 4-3-3 set-up, using orthodox full-backs to cover the flanks in case Sundram decides to attack from wide areas.

Still, it could all be moot. For this looks set to be a match where the spear and the shield cancel each other out.


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 22, 2016, with the headline 'Stiff resistance likely'. Subscribe