Malaysia's national coach Dollah confident of silencing Singapore
My boys can handle your 55,000 fans at Kallang.
Malaysia's national coach Dollah Salleh insists he is not losing any sleep over his team's Nov 29 date with Causeway rivals Singapore in their AFF Suzuki Cup Group B clash at the National Stadium.
The tasty derby will be both teams' third and final group game, and Malaysia's only one played at the venue.
Singapore will play all three of their group games at the National Stadium but, due to concerns over the sturdiness of the pitch there, Malaysia will play their earlier group games at the Jalan Besar Stadium.
The other two teams in the group are Thailand and Myanmar.
When asked if he was worried his players might have trouble handling what is likely to be a white-hot atmosphere at Kallang, Dollah told The New Paper in a phone interview: "To me, the 55,000 fans waiting for us at Kallang is not a problem.
"We will have some Malaysian fans there too and they will make themselves heard, so I'm not worried."
The 51-year-old, who took over as coach of the Tigers in June, is certainly no stranger to the Causeway Derby and knows all about the Kallang cauldron he will be leading his team into.
As a player, Dollah was a deadly striker and scored 48 goals in 97 appearances for his country.
He also took part in several encounters against Singapore, including a memorable clash in the Merdeka Cup in 1993, when he scored the winning goal.
On paper, Dollah reckons there isn't too much separating his boys and the Lions, and the team who have more hunger will win.
"There's really not much difference between the two teams," said Dollah matter-of-factly.
"We've played each other so many times, and the Singapore squad are made up of many LionsXII players, who know Malaysian football as well as we know them.
"A Singapore-Malaysia match is always special and both sets of players will give all they have.
"It's pretty much equal and it will depend on who wants it more on the day."
Dollah, who has coached three different teams to the prestigious Malaysia Cup, admitted that his side have not had the best preparation for the Suzuki Cup.
He has had less than two weeks to whip his charges into shape, as players from Pahang and Johor Darul Ta'zim (JDT) joined the squad only last Tuesday.
The two teams contested the Malaysia Cup final on Nov 1 and account for 11 of Malaysia's provisional 26-man squad.
Dollah said that time is not on his side as the Tigers prepare for their Suzuki Cup opener against Myanmar on Sunday.
"The main problem is that we've had only a short time to train together," he lamented.
"As a team, we haven't gelled yet. We have a lot of work ahead of us."
The coach is also worried about the lack of goals in his team.
Since he took over, Malaysia have failed to score in friendly matches against Indonesia (lost 0-2) and Syria (lost 0-3), and squeezed in just one in a 4-1 loss to Tajikistan.
They did, however, beat regional minnows Cambodia 4-1 in September.
Dollah said that he has "no choice" but to pick three JDT strikers - Amri Yahyah, Norshahrul Idlan Talaha and Safee Sali - who have struggled to nail down a starting place at club level because of the presence of dazzling Argentinian imports Luciano Figueroa and Jorge Pereyra Diaz.
The three Malaysian forwards combined for a measly six league goals last season, but the Tigers trainer insisted that they are still the best individual attackers the country have.
Besides the lack of firepower, Dollah also has fitness worries to contend with, with key central midfielder and set-piece specialist Safiq Rahim, and speedy winger R Gopinathan struggling with knee injuries.
Despite his problems, the coach believes his players will deliver when the tournament begins.
"It's not going to be easy, I know," said Dollah. "But we are focused on collecting three points in our first game against Myanmar. That's the key for us.
"If we can beat Myanmar, it will motivate our players and lift them to do even more in the tournament.
"And I believe in my experienced players."
GAMES AT NATIONAL STADIUM
Nov 23: Singapore v Thailand (8pm) Nov 26: Singapore v Myanmar (8pm) Nov 29: Singapore v Malaysia (8pm)
Single-match ticket (Prices in brackets after early-bird discount)
Cat 1: $48 ($36.70) Cat 2: $38 ($29.10) Cat 3: $28 ($21.40) Cat 4: $18 ($13.80)
Cat 1: $20 Cat 2: $16 Cat 3: $12 Cat 4: $8
Cat 1: $98 Cat 2: $78 Cat 3: $58 Cat 4: $38 Concession (Cat 4): $22
Family package (2 adult + 2 concession):
$48 before discount
GAMES AT JALAN BESAR STADIUM
Nov 23: Malaysia v Myanmar (5pm)
Nov 26: Malaysia v Thailand (5pm)
Nov 29: Thailand v Myanmar (8pm)
Grandstand: $26, Gallery: $18
*Match tickets are available online at www.sportshubtix.sg, through the hotline on 6333-5000 or 3158-7888, or at the box office at Singapore Indoor Stadium and at all Singpost outlets.
Lions urge fans to bring back the Kallang Roar
Semangat, or spirit in Malay, was the invisible force behind the Kallang Roar at the old National Stadium.
Opposing teams and fans used to be intimidated when a sea of red launched into an unstoppable wave, or shook the stadium at its foundations with its foot-stomping.
The Lions are hoping to rekindle that spirit at the new 55,000-seater National Stadium at the Singapore Sports Hub, when they start their AFF Suzuki Cup defence against Thailand next Sunday.
Malaysia coach Dollah Salleh told The New Paper in an interview (see facing page) that his team have "no problems" facing a capacity home crowd when they play Singapore on Nov 29 and Lions captain Shahril Ishak wants the fans to make him eat his words.
"It is every footballer's dream to play in front of a fantastic crowd. I did that at the old National Stadium in 2004 and 2007 (in the Asean Football Federation Championship), and the atmosphere was fantastic," said Shahril.
"Now that we have a new stadium, we want fans to recreate that atmosphere, that semangat we used to have in the past."
"Of course, the Causeway Derby is always something special to us, but we hope that fans can also fill the stadiums too when we play Thailand and Myanmar," added the 30-year-old at yesterday's Suzuki Cup trophy tour at the Kallang Wave Mall.
Goalkeeper Hassan Sunny also urged the fans to turn Kallang into a sea of red and to create a white-hot atmosphere for the visiting teams.
"It's normal for Dollah to say that (his players will not be fazed by our fans)," said the 30-year-old.
"After all, most of his players play in the Malaysian Super League, where they often face big crowds, so they would be used to it at club level.
"We don't normally have such a big crowd (in the S.League), but having the whole stadium supporting us would give us a big boost."
"I was part of the Kallang Roar when I was younger, it was an amazing feeling to be part of such a big-match atmosphere," added the Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League Player of the Year.
"We have yet to see such a great atmosphere at the new stadium, and we hope that it will be revived."
National coach Bernd Stange was more diplomatic about Dollah's comments.
The German said: "I won't make any comments about Malaysia, how they think or how they feel.
"I speak only for our team and, for us, our crowd is very important."
"A big crowd is the 12th or 13th man everywhere in the world," added the 66-year-old, who has guided teams on hallowed turfs such as the Maracana, Wembley and the Stade de France.
"If you look at the statistics in world football, there is a reason why a team normally have more home wins than away victories. It is the home crowd."
The trio, along with Amirul Adli, Shakir Hamzah and Faris Ramli, took part in a question-and-answer session yesterday at the Kallang Wave Mall, and signed autographs for about 150 fans at the two-hour event.
Stange said: "Our fans are the true VIPs in football. We need our fans to cheer for the national team, to wear the red shirts at the stadium and to support us, especially if things don't go our way in the matches.
"Big crowds are nothing new to me in my long career, but some of the youngsters in our team have never played in front of such a crowd before.
"It can be a big, big boost for them."