Sundram expects tough time against Cambodia
Sundram expects a tough match against improving Cambodia but Lee insists they are the underdogs
SINGAPORE v CAMBODIA
(Tonight, 7.45pm, Bishan Stadium)
For the first time since the Fifa rankings were introduced in 1992, Singapore will enter into an "A" international match against Cambodia placed lower than the Angkor Warriors when they meet at the Bishan Stadium tonight.
Following six matches without a win - including a 2-1 reverse at Phnom Penh in July, a first since 1972 - the Lions have fallen to an all-time low of 171st in the rankings.
They are four spots behind Cambodia, who enter tonight's friendly on the back of four straight wins as they qualified for the Suzuki Cup.
This will be the final build-up friendly for both teams, before the Suzuki Cup kicks off next Saturday.
Singapore are in Group A with co-hosts Philippines, defending champions Thailand and Indonesia, while Cambodia are in Group B with co-hosts Myanmar, Vietnam and Malaysia.
Singapore coach V Sundramoorthy is not perturbed by the rankings, as he feels that it is more of a case of the Cambodians making good strides rather than the Lions stagnating.
"Cambodia have improved a lot, and they gave us a good game when we beat them 2-1 in a World Cup qualifier here last year," the 51-year-old said at a pre-match press conference yesterday.
"When we lost in Cambodia, we played with more of a selection team without Hassan (Sunny), Daniel (Bennett), Baihakki (Khaizan) and Hariss (Harun). It was more for the fringe players to show what they can do.
"It will be a tough game because every team in the region have improved.
"It's different from the times when Indra Sahdan or Noh Alam Shah can think about how many goals they are going to score against them. It's no longer like that. Times have changed.
"Cambodia played Hong Kong twice and lost 4-2 and 2-0. They are no longer whipping boys."
Indeed, since taking over in Oct 2012, Lee Tae Hoon has infused some South Korean tenacity into the Angkor Warriors.
His 23-man squad for the Suzuki Cup have an average age of 22.8, more than four years younger than Singapore's average of 27.4.
With pace, desire and crucially lethal finishing, the Cambodians took apart Laos (2-1), Brunei (3-0) and Timor Leste (3-2) in the Suzuki Cup qualifiers.
Before their defeats by Hong Kong, they had another four-match unbeaten run which included wins over Singapore (2-1) and Taiwan (2-0).
In 22-year-old forward Chan Vathanaka, the Cambodian League's top scorer for the last two seasons, the visitors seem to have found a reliable source of goals as he has scored eight times in 24 caps, including the opener the last time both teams met.
Although Lee acknowledges his team's qualities, he insists they will start tonight's match as the underdogs against the Lions.
"Our players always learn a lot from matches against Singapore, in terms of team and individual qualities," said Lee.
"Our players are better than before, but we still lack in these areas so we always want to play against strong teams.
"When I first took on the job, I had to change the players' skill sets and mindsets.
"They were poor and lacked concentration and I had to change their habits. For example, because of the hot and humid Asean climate, players tend to move slower, and I had to change this mentality.
"We also improved in terms of basic skills because if you cannot control the ball, you cannot play football. I have had good cooperation from everyone involved and we are improving step by step.
"But we are not on the same level as Singapore yet. Singapore are still at a higher level than us."
With the Suzuki Cup just a week away, both teams will be keen to avoid injuries to key players.
But Singapore vice-captain Hariss Harun wants his team to go all out and get a convincing win tonight, so that they can fly to Manila on a high on Tuesday.
The 25-year-old said: "It's very important to get confidence and momentum with a win, and that's what we want to achieve against Cambodia.
"We give our best in every match and we hate to lose, even a friendly.
"But what matters more now is getting results at the Suzuki Cup.
"Every team will have their ups and downs, and we hope this is the end of our poor run and we can experience the highs soon."
BY THE NUMBERS
22.8: Cambodia's squad for the Suzuki Cup have an average age of 22.8, more than four years younger than Singapore's average of 27.4.