Hassan: Bring on Thailand
Lions hero Hassan confident of shutting out defending champions
REPORTING FROM MANILA
THAILAND v SINGAPORE
(Tomorrow, 4pm, Singtel TV Ch 114 & StarHub TV Ch 208)
He was suffering from muscle tightness and battling fatigue.
But national goalkeeper Hassan Sunny is made of sterner stuff.
So when Filipino attacker Hikaru Minegeshi sent a header seemingly bound for the back of the net in injury time during their AFF Suzuki Cup Group A opener on Saturday, Hassan summoned everything left in him to pounce low to his right and turn the ball wide, despite having his vision blocked.
The superb save helped 10-man Singapore secure a goalless draw against the tournament co-hosts.
The Lions had survived almost an hour-long onslaught from the Filipinos, who played two-thirds of the match with an extra man, following the 34th-minute sending-off of Hafiz Abu Sujad.
"About 10 minutes before that save, I had muscle tightness," Hassan recalled, in an interview with The New Paper yesterday.
"I took about 25 long kicks in the game and that required a lot of energy and power.
"Somehow, I had a feeling that something would happen at that corner kick... and, as it turned out, (Minegeshi) was unmarked.
"One of our defenders was blocking my view, so I saw the ball only when it bounced off the ground.
"At that moment, the only thing In my head was, 'I had to fly'. And luckily, I got my fingertips to it."
The 32-year-old shot-stopper revealed that one of his pre-match rituals helped him get his size 10.5 gloves to the ball.
"I always give myself a pep talk before games," said Hassan.
"I tell myself, 'Whatever it is, just try, you never know if you'll get there... Just don't freeze'.
"So that actually helped me, especially towards the end, when I was tired and had muscle cramps in my calf and thigh, and the referee thought I was (play-acting)."
Hassan was even given a yellow card when he went down complaining of cramps in the final 10 minutes.
What mattered most was that he extended his remarkable record in national colours since V Sundramoorthy took over in late May.
Hassan has now gone 585 minutes without conceding a goal from open play in a Lions' shirt.
He was beaten thrice in the 3-1 defeat by Bahrain in Riffa in September, but all three goals came from the penalty spot.
The last goal from open play that beat the goalkeeper was in June, when Vietnam defeated Singapore 3-0 after extra time in the AYA Bank Cup final in Yangon.
"When you are on the field, you don't really look at the stats or think of the numbers," he said.
"But good stats are worth looking at, and something like this is a boost for my confidence.
"Seven games is a long run and (the statistic) is nice to have, but I prefer to win matches and not just have clean sheets but not win."
Hassan, who plies his trade in Thailand for Army United - recently relegated to the second division - is looking forward to the Lions' next game, against the Thais tomorrow.
He said: "I pretty much know all of their players, from Kawin (Thamsatchanan) to Teerasil (Dangda).
"Against the Thais, we need to cover the space, follow our men, and beware of the third man running.
"If you look at their physique, they are not the same size as the Aussies or Iranians, or even the Koreans and Japanese.
"But, in terms of their play, I think they are just one level below Japan.
"Just look at the way they scored against Australia (in a 2-2 draw in a World Cup qualifier last week) - Chanathip (Songkrasin) fooled four players with just one pass.
"We cannot let them have time with the ball. Once they have a good look and find the running man, the next thing you know, they're behind us."
The fatigue factor is a concern for Sundram, as he prepares his team to face the Thais, who beat Indonesia 4-2 in their opening game on Saturday.
"Obviously, it's a factor," Sundram told TNP yesterday. "Our boys had to run a lot to make up for (Hafiz) and had to put in extra effort.
"But, hopefully, the players' recovery sessions will do them good."
The players who played against the Philippines on Saturday did light recovery training at the team's Novotel Hotel base yesterday, while the rest trained at the Ateneo de Manila University.
Besides fatigue, Sundram has some selection issues.
Hafiz is suspended, right back Faritz Hameed picked up a dead leg in the last match and Mustafic Fahrudin left the squad yesterday after his father died in Serbia.
But Hassan said the squad have been lifted by the positive response to their battling display against the Philippines, who are the top-ranked Asean team (124th). Singapore are ranked 171st.
"From what we saw on social media, the fans appreciate our effort," said the custodian. "That's something we did not get for the past few matches.
"The Thailand game will be totally different to the one against the Philippines, and we go into the game as the underdogs again.
"No one gave us a chance against the Philippines, but now that we have the belief in the team, we can go out there and do it again."
Lions goalkeeper Hassan Sunny has now gone 585 minutes without conceding a goal from open play. He was beaten thrice in the 3-1 defeat by Bahrain in Riffa in September, but all three goals came from the penalty spot.