Move Safuwan back to defence, says Sasikumar
Ex-Lions defender Sasikumar hopes the utility player returns to his natural position in defence
He may not have played as centre back under national coach V Sundramoorthy, but with the Lions' defence looking vulnerable, calls have been made by the football fraternity for Safuwan Baharudin to return to his natural position.
Speaking to The New Paper yesterday, former national defender R Sasikumar joined in the chorus.
Sasi, who scored the only goal in the 1998 Tiger Cup final against Vietnam, said: "Just because Safuwan wins a few headers and scores one or two goals doesn't make him a forward.
"He is just not trained to be that. I know Singapore are struggling for goals, but in a tournament, it is always important to shore up the defence.
"Safuwan is a natural defender and for me, he must be considered alongside Baihakki (Khaizan) and Daniel (Bennett) to play at centre back.
"All three are good options and Sundram should pick the best according to the opponents and what he picks up in training."
When Singapore won the 2012 Suzuki Cup, Baihakki and Safuwan formed what was then the best defensive pairing in South-east Asia.
However, in the years that followed, he was pushed further up the pitch for the LionsXII and the national team, first as a last-ditch option to secure a result, before becoming a mainstay in the No. 10 role.
His aerial ability created opportunities early on, but opponents gradually adapted to the game plan.
Of late, Safuwan has struggled in the attacking role as the Lions continue to misfire in front of goal, scoring just four times in eight matches under Sundram.
While Sasikumar feels Safuwan should play in defence, he pointed to 32-year-old Baihakki (128 caps) and 38-year-old Bennett (129) as men for the big occasion, even if they are no longer at their peak.
The pair were part of Singapore's three Suzuki Cup wins in 2004, 2007, 2012.
Said Sasi: "Bennett may be 38 but I'm pleasantly surprised with his fitness as he had a good season with Geylang International.
"It's no secret that Baihakki has dropped a few gears playing for Johor Darul Ta'zim II in the second division in Malaysia, but he has not turned into a bad player overnight.
"They have the experience of winning the competition and you cannot buy that. You cannot replace a champion's mindset.
"Sure, they may not have the speed against quicker sides like Thailand, but you can mitigate for that with solid full backs and a great goalkeeper like Hassan Sunny."
"S Subramani, Aide Iskandar and I were never the fastest defenders when we won the Tiger Cup in 1998.
"But we had a commanding goalkeeper in Rezal Hassan and good fullbacks in Zulkarnaen Zainal and Lim Soon Seng, who were very good in positioning and we were never caught out by a ball over the top.
"With the players Singapore have at the moment, I think we will be okay in defence, as long as the right players are in the right positions."