Experience at the back
Bai, Mustafic and Bennett tout experience, guile and teamwork as key for the Lions
Between them, Baihakki Khaizan, Daniel Bennett and Mustafic Fahrudin boast 330 international caps.
There is plenty of experience among V Sundramoorthy's central defenders, as they shape up to face Malaysia tonight in the Causeway Challenge at the National Stadium.
But with the trio on the wrong side of 30 - Bai is 32, Mustafic 35 and Bennett 38- many will wonder if they will be able to cope with the speed of the modern game, especially at the AFF Suzuki Cup next month.
Singapore have been drawn in Group A of the Suzuki Cup with tournament co-hosts Philippines, who are Asean's No. 1 team, along with defending champions Thailand and Indonesia.
Daniel Bennett. TNP PHOTO: JEREMY LONG
Sundram, however, is not worried.
"It's good to have so many players competing, not just in central defence but also at right back and left back," said the coach.
"Who plays depends on the opponent we are going to play.
"When we play against the Philippines, we know they have bigger boys we have to cope with, but against Thailand, who are known to be speedy, we might change the approach.
"I'm confident in who we have. More or less, the team are already settled. All we need to do is a little fine-tuning."
Apart from Bai (125 caps), Bennett (126) and Mustafic (79), Sundram can also opt to play 25-year-old Madhu Mohana (16) or 23-year-old Shakir Hamzah (25) in the centre, although the duo's versatility also makes them options for right back and left back, respectively.
The squad also feature the lanky 25-year-old Afiq Yunos, who stands at 1.84m and has 11 caps, and the uncapped 19-year-old Irfan Fandi, who is 1.87m tall.
The defenders believe they have can handle whatever is thrown at them.
Bai believes Singapore's reputation for being a solid unit will hold them in good stead.
"Firstly, defenders tend to peak at a later stage of their career," said the Johor Darul Ta'zim II man.
"Of course, when you age, you start losing pace, but you gain experience. You know when to move at the right second, and which position you have to be in.
"The midfield department has a role to play in defending as well, that's why football is a team game.
"As long as we cover each other and concentrate on our strengths as a team, we can do okay."
Bennett, who was recalled by Sundram in July to return to the national squad for the first time since the Lions' last Suzuki Cup triumph in Dec 2012, believes modern football is all about guile.
"Obviously I'm 38. I can't change my passport," he said, matter-of-factly.
"Coach makes the decisions, and it's based on us playing our club football.
"I feel, in any team, there are players who are fast and those who aren't as fast.
"This is football, and you learn to cope with it in different ways.
"Some of the best players in the world aren't that fast, and often (what sets them apart is) they're clever players."
Mustafic agreed, saying the experience of Singapore's veteran players will be a boon for the team.
"It's especially important in games with the national team, where you have to handle a lot of pressure," he said.
"Our current team remind me a lot of the Suzuki Cup squad in 2012.
"Two years earlier, we were knocked out of the group stage and we were having a tough time with results heading into the tournament.
"But, in our first game, against Malaysia at the Bukit Jalil Stadium again, where the pressure was so high, we showed we learned from the experience in 2010 and we handled it and won 3-0.
"This time round, players like Hariss Harun (with Johor Darul Ta'zim) and the Tampines Rovers players in the squad know what that experience is like with their clubs going far in the AFC Cup."
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