Hong Kong test for the Lions
Fuelled by a foreign legion, Hong Kong look strong, but Lions have reasons to be positive
HONG KONG v SINGAPORE
(Tonight, 8pm, Okto)
Godfred Karikari, Manoel dos Santos and Alexander Akande are not exactly the first names that come to mind when "Hong Kong" is mentioned.
But V Sundramoorthy and his Lions will have to deal with the trio - and up to eight other foreign-born players - when the two teams clash in an international friendly at the Mong Kok Stadium tonight.
And the coach is eager to see whether his boys have what it takes to keep Hong Kong at bay.
The match is part of Singapore's preparations for next month's AFF Suzuki Cup in the Philippines.
"We need to approach different games differently," Sundram told The New Paper over the phone yesterday.
"On Friday, we were at home against Malaysia.
"Now, we are against a Hong Kong team who are stronger, and have had good results in their last few games.
"We are playing against a stout Hong Kong team with many foreign-born players.
"Basically their attacking players are all foreign-born.
"They're big and physically strong, so it's important we stay tight and compact."
Sundram has reason to be wary. Out of 20 outfield players Hong Kong's South Korean coach Kim Pan Gon called up for the squad to take on Singapore, 12 were born outside Hong Kong.
Four hail from Brazil, three from England, two from Nigeria, two from mainland China, and one from Ghana.
Among them, six players stand taller than 1.80m.
Hong Kong's physical power has seen them rack up a number of impressive results over the last year.
They held Asian powerhouses China to two goalless draws in World Cup Qualifiers in September and November last year.
Last Thursday, they beat Cambodia 2-0 in Phnom Penh, thanks to goals from Karikari and Akande.
The Cambodians had beaten Singapore 2-1 in July, also in Phnom Penh.
Sundram's squad feature two foreign-born players too, in veteran defenders Mustafic Fahrudin (Serbia) and Daniel Bennett (England), and the coach previously told TNP he was considering handing Mustafic a start against Hong Kong.
Others in line for selection are midfielder Yasir Hanapi and winger Hafiz Abu Sujad.
Said Sundram: "We have a big squad, and everybody wants to play for the national team.
"Those players who get a chance, I want to see them take the opportunity and compete."
The coach added he was heartened by his charges' positive performance in the 0-0 draw with Causeway Cup rivals Malaysia last Friday.
Despite dominating the match and hitting the woodwork three times, Singapore were not able to score, but Sundram said the showing gave the team confidence to build on.
"The most important thing is we created chances," he said.
"It happens to even the top teams - you create chances, sometimes you score and sometimes you don't.
"We hit the bar three times, Izzdin (Shafiq) had one shot that almost went in, and even (defenders) Baihakki Khaizan and Bennett were in the box, even though it was for set-pieces.
"Our two central midfielders were also positive in their approach."
They’re big and physically strong, so it’s important we stay tight and compact.
— Coach Sundramoorthy on the Hong Kong team
No pressure for Safuwan
TNP PHOTO: JEREMY LONG
It might be a new responsibility for him.
But Lions ace Safuwan Baharudin says he is comfortable handling expectations as an attacker, and trying to help the team find a cutting edge up front.
Singapore take on hosts Hong Kong in a friendly at the Mong Kok Stadium tonight.
V Sundramoorthy's charges are coming off a 0-0 draw with Malaysia at the National Stadium on Friday, when they performed creditably and struck the woodwork on three occasions.
Safuwan (above), who played as a second striker in the match, said the team's inability to put their chances away does not weigh on him down.
"There is always pressure on any professional footballer regardless of which position he plays, so pressure is nothing new to me," said the 25-year-old.
The PDRM star played just behind veteran striker Khairul Amri last week, and although the understanding between the two was not quite telepathic, Safuwan's prowess in the air again shone through.
His aerial ability will be crucial against a Hong Kong team that boast 12 foreign-born players, six of whom are taller than 1.80m.
The Lions are tuning up for next month's AFF Suzuki Cup in the Philippines, and Safuwan is confident his partnership with Amri can be sharpened ahead of the Asean battle.
"Against Malaysia, I think the team as a whole played well," he said.
"We dominated the match and were unlucky not to win.
"As coach said, if we keep performing well then the results will come.
"We are happy with our performance and confident that if we keep working hard, then the team will peak in time for the Suzuki Cup."
- SAZALI ABDUL AZIZ