Two heroes hoping to outdo each other
Rivals as players, Singapore's Fandi and Indonesia's Bima renew their rivalry as coaches in tonight's Suzuki Cup match
Changing coaches fewer than three weeks before a major tournament is not usually considered ideal preparation, but Singapore coach Fandi Ahmad believes it could end up boosting Indonesia's chances at the Asean Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup.
Spaniard Luis Milla, who had been in charge of the Merah Putih since January 2017, abruptly quit last month and was replaced by his assistant Bima Sakti on Oct 21.
Despite the coaching reshuffle, Fandi believes that Indonesia could be a more dangerous proposition under the 58-cap former national midfielder.
Perhaps channelling his own experiences, the 56-year-old Lions legend believes Bima's status as "a local hero" in Indonesia will give the Merah Putih players an added level of motivation that might not have been there under Milla.
Speaking at the pre-match press conference ahead of his side's Suzuki Cup opener at the National Stadium tonight, Fandi said: "Whether (under) Luis or Bima, the team haven't changed much.
"With Bima around, they'll be more dangerous because of the motivational factor.
"He's a legend there... he's respected by the players, and I think that gives them the edge with Bima rather than Luis.
"He's a local hero.
"Of course, Luis brought a different dimension to the Indonesian game, with a style similar to tiki-taka, but I think the motivational factor is a big positive for them."
Bima, meanwhile, admitted that his last-minute ascension to the national job has given him little time to make changes.
He said: "I have brought many of the players who played in the Asian Games (16 of the 23-man squad) and we've been training like we did under Luis.
"I don't have time to change the (training) programme or players."
Ahead of the match, Bima, 42, was quick to point out that he got the better of Fandi the last time they met as players.
Both of them scored as Indonesia beat Singapore 2-1 in the 1997 SEA Games semi-final.
That game was Fandi's last in a Lions jersey.
Tonight, he will come full circle, making his competitive international coaching debut against Indonesia.
After an Indonesian journalist told the Lions coach that Bima had said he had beaten Fandi during their last meeting as players and was confident of repeating the trick as a coach, the 56-year old reminisced: "That was my last game.
"I started in Jakarta in 1979, I ended my career scoring against Indonesia, when I silenced 100,000 (fans at the Senayan Stadium).
"But, to my disappointment, my coach took me out straight after that.
"We were attacking.
"But Bima is a good friend of mine. The ball is round, anything can happen, so hopefully we'll turn it around now."
While Fandi would like to start his competitive coaching career on a different note from how he ended his playing days, he admitted that he is "envious" of the "special" Indonesian team he will be up against tonight.
He said: "Indonesia are special, different from what I've seen in previous years.
"They are very dangerous on the break, they have many very nippy players...
"They are very good ball handlers, technically they are very strong, and they are mobile.
"You enjoy watching them play, the one-two touches, the movement, which we envy.
"We don't have that many talented players, we have very limited (options).
"What we have, we'll make use of it, in terms of teamwork, defending as a team, dedication and discipline...
"We can't stop Indonesia (in terms of) how they play, but we know what we are supposed to do."
For Lions captain Hariss Harun, that means the mental side of the game.
Said the 27-year-old: "I think the mental, psychological side is more important than the physical side tomorrow, because we've been preparing well over the last month or two.
"In terms of this kind of high-stakes game, it is important to be mentally ready."