How the Lions can surprise Thailand
Sundram's men hold firm at the back and hit the War Elephants' weakness
THAILAND v SINGAPORE
(Today, 4pm, Singtel TV Ch 114 & StarHub TV Ch 208)
I recently had a chat with my former Singapore coach Raddy Avramovic and teammate Aleksandar Duric over how we were the best side in South-east Asia from 2007 to 2010, but didn't win the Suzuki Cup in the 2008 and 2010 editions.
We were where Thailand are now, but came unstuck in the two tournaments, proving the best sides don't always win trophies.
I think the current group of Lions are a good tournament team and in Sundram, they have a coach who knows how to play ugly and get results.
With only a one-year contract as national coach, he doesn't have time to develop players, and that's why we are seeing more veterans in the team.
And they could get the job done against Thailand.
The War Elephants are brilliant in midfield, but they are not great at either end of the pitch.
I thought they looked arrogant after half-time in their first match against Indonesia, probably thinking it was job done after taking a 2-0 lead.
Singapore need to stretch Thailand and I feel they can get at them on the counter-attack.
The Thais also seem vulnerable with crosses from deeper positions when their wingbacks go missing.
Tristan Do on the right loves to get forward, so the Lions may want to look at attacking down Thailand's left flank.
Gabriel Quak, who did not play in the draw against the Philippines, has the ability to deliver good crosses, but it's all about whether Sundram trusts him to defend as well.
Obviously, Thailand are the favourites with their beautiful passing game, but if Singapore can hold them off defensively, they will have some opportunities and they must take if they want a positive result.
Thailand are a team who have a Plan A and a Plan B.
While most teams in the competition have their own identity - Singapore under Sundram are hard to beat with their soak-and-strike strategy - they don't seem to have a back-up plan when the chips are down.
Thailand don't necessarily need pace to break down opponents when they can keep and pass the ball so well.
When they face teams that set out to defend, they have the ability to score from range, as they showed against Indonesia.
Midfielder Pokklaw Anan was my teammate when we played for Thailand's Police United. He is a wonderful box-to-box player who complements Sarach Yooyen really well in the sense "one goes, the other covers".
I am surprised by how clever Sarach is on the ball. He troubleshoots really well in tight situations.
This central-midfield partnership keeps Thailand ticking and allows playmaker Chanathip Songkrasin to express himself.
The little maestro can be unplayable between the lines.
Singapore's own central midfield trio of Hariss Harun, Safuwan Baharudin, and Anumanthan Mohan Kumar or Izzdin Shafiq will have to keep things tight to avoid being overrun in the engine room.
I know it's funny when I say Thailand are not great at either end of the pitch when they recently scored twice against Australia and then netted four times against Indonesia.
But main striker Teerasil Danga just reached double figures in the last two seasons with Muangthong United and Thailand are missing the more clinical Adisak Kraisorn, who is injured.
That said, the brace against Australia definitely put the wind back in Teerasil's sails. Having missed out on the last Suzuki Cup (he wasn't released by La Liga's Almeria), he hasn't won this title before and he looks hungry.
Lions centre back Madhu Mohana played really well against the Philippines but I know the Thai mentality. Daniel Bennett and Baihakki Khaizan have built a certain reputation and the Thais will take a step back if they see their names on the starting list.
Sure, the two of them don't have great pace but they never had that in the first place.
What they have are loads of experience. Dan reads the game better and Bai often wins the first ball.
My prediction... It is all about head and heart, isn't it?
I'm going to go with Thailand to win by the odd goal, 2-1.
● John Wilkinson is a former Singapore international midfielder who collected 29 caps and four international goals from 2007 to 2010.
● FOX Sports is proud to be the exclusive pay-TV broadcaster for the 11th edition of the Asean Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup. The biennial championship gathers South-east Asia's top national teams to vie to be crowned kings of football in the region. FOX Sports will be showing all 18 games live on both its network and its online FOX Sports Play offering. Leading the team in the FOX Sports studio will be industry veteran Steve Dawson and former Singapore international John Wilkinson, with insights from former Suzuki Cup coaches, Steve Darby and record three-time title-winning coach, Radojko "Raddy" Avramovic.
ANALYSING THE THAIS
Indonesia scored twice against Thailand via crosses from both flanks.
The Thais seem vulnerable dealing with crosses from deeper positions when their wingbacks go missing.
Right wingback Tristan Do (above) loves to get forward, so the Lions can look at attacking down that flank.
The central midfield duo of Sarach Yooyen and Pokklaw Anan complement each other well in the sense “one goes, the other covers”.
Pokklaw is a dynamic box-to-box player, while Sarach (above) can help his team play the ball out of tight situations.
Chanathip Songkrasin, the little maestro, can be uncontainable and unplayable between the lines with his ability to unlock defences with incisive passes.
The Lions must deny him the time and GROUP A space to do the damage.
The War Elephants are brilliant in midfield, but they are not great at either end of the pitch... Singapore need to stretch Thailand and I feel they can get at them on the counter-attack.
— Ex-Singapore international John Wilkinson, on Thailand
BY THE NUMBERS
Thailand will be playing their third game in eight days. They drew 2-2 with Australia in a World Cup qualifier last Tuesday, before last Saturday’s 4-2 win over Indonesia. Thailand coach Kiatisuk Senamuang said he will be resting some players tonight.