Smiling Sundram "fears" exposing plans to Wenger
Sundram's boys poised for a competitive clash with Wenger's aristocrats
ARSENAL v S'PORE SELECTION
(Tonight, 8.30pm, National Stadium)
Smiles are rarely spotted at a V Sundramoorthy pre-match press conference, but yesterday the coach of the Singapore Selection side to face Arsenal in the Barclays Asia Trophy was in fine fettle, even cracking jokes as he faced the media.
The former Singapore international initially declined to reveal his team's approach to the match against the English FA Cup champions, claiming he feared exposing his plans to Arsene Wenger.
Then, failing to hold a straight face, he chuckled heartily at his cheeky comment.
This was a light-hearted, smiling Sundram, but the facade will vanish when he steps into the National Stadium tonight, because we've seen it before.
The last time the 49-year-old helmed a Singapore Selection side, against Spanish giants Atletico Madrid in 2013, Sundram was all smiles when he met Diego Simeone, before turning out a disciplined, hard-tackling team that pushed their opponents all the way in a 2-0 defeat for the home side.
That was a robust affair and one suspects it will be more of the same tonight, especially when Sundram was a key member of the coaching triumvirate - including Lions coach Bernd Stange and Fandi Ahmad - that steered the national team to a shock 0-0 with Asian giants Japan in last month's Group E World Cup qualifier in Saitama.
"It's easier to enjoy a match like this against Arsenal after we did what we did against Japan. There was a lot of pressure there, getting something out of that game would put us in good contention for qualification to the Asian Cup," he told The New Paper.
"But this game also holds importance, but of a different kind: in the old days, fans could name the first 11 of any Singapore team, but (with English football's increasing influence in Singapore) it's not like that now.
"This is definitely a chance for the boys to show what they've got against English teams, and make fans start to remember their names."
Goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud's stunning 18-save performance against Japan has made him a bit of an internet sensation, even earning him an invitation to a trial in Japan's J-League.
While the Barclays Asia Trophy will present Izwan with a chance to add to his burgeoning reputation, Sundram believes there are others who could well do the same, like Safuwan Baharudin, Khairul Amri and Madhu Mohana.
The key to a good performance lies in the heads of the players.
"Morale in the team is great, but we must prepare the team - especially mentally - to face great players like Arsenal have," he said. "What more motivation do they need."
While Wenger admitted to knowing nothing about the Singapore side, he seemed to know more about the coach's style than he let on, asserting that Asian sides tend to be "very mobile, very quick, and very disciplined".
"I expect that kind of team... and because we are in the preparation stage, we expect to suffer a little bit," said the highly-decorated Frenchman.
"You want to combine many things in your preparation... we finished well last season and we want to find our game back, we want to find that cohesion back, and you want to improve, and pre-season games can help us strengthen that feeling," he added.
Wenger insisted that pre-season games have taken on more weight in recent times, with failure to win possibly being labelled a "crisis".
"It's important that you start on a positive foot," he said.
And in Wenger's way is a Singapore side looking for yet another valiant performance.
Said Sundram: "We are not going to park the bus. But we also have to be clever and limit the space and time (that Arsenal have) on the ball.
"We will try not to concede early and that will give us a chance to win," said Sundram, this time, neither smiling nor chuckling.
Arsene preaches team cohesion
The Arsenal rumour mill has gone into overdrive, linking the English FA Cup champions to Real Madrid star Karim Benzema, with Mesut Oezil reportedly wanting to discuss his future at the Emirates Stadium.
But, speaking ahead of the Barclays Asia Trophy fixture against a Singapore Selection side tonight, Arsene Wenger called for a focus on players the club have on their books, in the biggest hint that Arsenal will not be welcoming any more major signings.
"I won't close the door (to more new signings), but we have strengthened the squad already and I believe that part of success of the team depends on the level of cohesion," he said at the Grand Hyatt yesterday.
"We have a good level of cohesion, and at the moment what is important for the squad and myself is to see how we can move forward again," said the Frenchman.
"We have to move forward together, which for me is more important than dreaming about finding a miraculous player who wins you everything.
"I believe we have the quality and it's about how we can be stronger together."
Pre-season will present an opportunity to build that cohesion and allow Wenger to get a better look at his squad before the transfer window shuts on Sept 1.
"It is an opportunity to people on the fringe. It can influence my decisions until the transfer market is over," he said.
Wenger also believes Petr Cech's move from Chelsea would add much to the team.
"I must say that in the second part of the season, we conceded 13 goals from 19 games, so there is not much wrong there. That means that the requested level is very high," said Wenger.
"(Cech) will give us his talent, his experience, his knowledge of the top-level game.
"He can contribute to stabilise our defensive sector."
Everton v Stoke, 6pm; Arsenal v Singapore Selection, 8.30pm
Category 1: $145, Cat 2: $105, Cat 3: $60, Cat 4: $40 (adult); $25 (child).
3rd v 4th play-off, 6pm; Final, 8.30pm
Cat 1: $155, Cat 2: $115, Cat 3: $70, Cat 4: $45 (adult), $28 (child).
- Prices are inclusive of GST but subject to booking and delivery fees.
- Children under the age of 3 do not require a ticket but cannot occupy a seat without a valid ticket. Those aged 3 to 12 years old need a ticket and must be purchased in conjunction with an adult ticket.
- Tickets available from Sports Hub Tix, the official ticketing agency, through the following avenues:
- Online at www.sportshubtix.sg
- Hotline +65 3158 7888 (10am to 8pm).
- Box Office at the Singapore Indoor Stadium
- All Singpost outlets.
Prayer rooms for Muslims at stadium
Taking into consideration that the Barclays Asia Trophy falls during the Ramadan period, special prayer rooms at Gate 2 and Gate 13 of the National Stadium will be available for Muslim fans during match days.
Nine halal concession food & beverage stands will also be opened in the evenings.