Shahril's call: Come alive, Kallang
Unlike England ahead of just about any major football tournament, Singapore has not demanded victory from its national team.
Neither is the country exploding with optimism.
Indeed, even though Singapore are defending the AFF Suzuki Cup on home soil, the general sentiment is one of cynical realism.
Concerns over the pressures of playing under the close scrutiny of a home crowd at a fancy new stadium that has yet to be properly christened with the warmth and familiarity of a home, take centre-stage.
There are fears of an opposition too slick (Thailand), a rivalry that may debilitate (Malaysia), and the intimate knowledge of a former commander-in-chief (Myanmar coach Radojko Avramovic).
Fortunately, the Lions have made a habit of turning it on when the odds are stacked against them.
Singapore have won the Asean title a record four times, in 1998, 2004, 2007, and 2012.
From R Sasikumar to Lionel Lewis to Aleksandar Duric, former winners vividly remember how little was expected of each of the title-winning teams.
In 1998, Indonesia and Thailand played out a farcical encounter, both looking to lose their final group game and thus win the right to face Singapore, who were perceived to be weak, in the semi-finals.
The Lions went on to win their first major trophy.
It was a less bizarre, but similar story in 2004, and again in 2012 when, on both occasions, little was expected of a team in transition.
But victories came on a foundation of unity in a tightly knit team.
The setting is a similar one this year, with skipper Shahril Ishak and his crew of seniors, the likes of Hassan Sunny and Baihakki Khaizan, taking ownership of the team. The younger lads are in good hands.
Shahril has fully embraced defensive duties on the pitch, and Baihakki has taken a public rebuking from coach Bernd Stange on the chin and went on to improve.
It is now all about the team.
“We know how to work with one another, we’ve spent a lot of time together, and we’re getting there — this unity is a weapon for us, we know that,” said Safuwan Baharudin, who starred in the 2012 title-winning side.
“We weren’t the best team in terms of technique or tactics.
“Good individuals can win you matches, but a united team can win you championships.”
Nazri Nasir and Rafi Ali played in that ill-fated 4-0 loss to Malaysia in 2002, one of the Lions’ darkest days, and they warned of the perils that come with playing under the pressure of a home crowd.
And both are convinced that in this team there are players who know how to deal with it, even flourish.
Shahril, Hassan, Baihakki, Safuwan and Hariss Harun all know what a Suzuki Cup campaign is about, and they will remember what it takes to win.
They have played in the cauldrons of Senayan in Jakarta and Rajamangala in Bangkok and won, so an unfamiliar turf at the National Stadium won’t faze them — as long as you, the red-and-white Singapore fan, are there.
Shahril and Co. are aware of the arduous task that lies ahead when they kick off their title defence on Sunday, and what they need is that proverbial bottle.
Courage, gumption or confidence, call it what you will, but Shahril insisted it will come from a packed National Stadium.
“Playing in front of a stadium full of our own fans really gives us that extra boost,” he said.
“But in this team, we believe in one another. I hope you believe in us and come — that will make all the difference.”