The Hariss conundrum
Sundram has to decide whether to tinker with his defence and midfield for final
REPORTING FROM YANGON
AYA BANK CUP FINAL
VIETNAM v SINGAPORE
(Tomorrow, 7.25pm, Singtel TV Ch 109)
Even as the Lions trained for a good hour at the Aung San Stadium, Vietnam - the Lions' opponents in the Aya Bank Cup final tomorrow - were enjoying a day of sightseeing visiting the famous Shwedagon Pagoda.
"They can do what they like, but I want our boys to do proper recovery for those who played, and for those who didn't to stay fresh," countered Singapore coach V Sundramoorthy yesterday.
The new Singapore coach had masterminded a hard-fought 1-0 win over hosts Myanmar on Friday and he was focused on the task at hand.
"We came here to do a job, and we want to stay focused until we have played our final."
After analysing his first game in charge, the 50-year-old felt pleased enough with his defence, which held up under substantial Myanmar pressure.
At the same time, he felt his midfield trio of Safuwan Baharudin, Izzdin Shafiq and Azhar Sairudin could have done better in terms of winning possession and making better use of the ball.
It has added to the dilemma of whether to deploy the ever-reliable Hariss Harun back in the engine room or in the heart of defence against Vietnam.
The Golden Stars can be irrepressible when they get their quick passes going, and the Lions will have to be careful not to be overpowered by the likes of Incheon United's Luong Xuan Truong and Yokohama's Nguyen Tuan Anh in central midfield.
Sundram said: "Hariss did great alongside Baihakki to marshal our defence.
"We did miss him in midfield. His technique and aggression would help win us possession in one-versus-one battles.
"But we need to stabilise our defence first and his position against Vietnam is something I will consider within these two days.
"I have not decided yet, but I do have Madhu (Mohana) and Afiq (Yunos) available as centre backs.
"Yasir (Hanapi) also did well when brought on as a central midfielder, while Shahril (Ishak) and Sahil (Suhaimi) can also play behind the striker like Azhar did on Friday."
Even though Hariss is a midfielder by trade, former national coach and technical director PN Sivaji felt he did not look out of place in defence and would prefer him to continue in this role.
The 64-year-old, now technical director of Myanmar's Hantharwardy United, said: "I prefer Hariss as a centre back because the defence needs someone solid and able to play the ball out from the back.
"If Sundram plays Hariss, Safuwan and Izzdin in the engine room, you are looking at a central midfield that is 70 per cent defensive because these are ball winners and tacklers more than someone who can provide splitting passes.
"The good headache is Sundram has options, and can play someone like Azhar or Shahril in place of one of these midfielders, but Hariss looks good and comfortable in defence so why not continue with this arrangement?"
We did miss him in midfield. His technique and aggression would help win us possession in one-versus-one battles. But we need to stabilise our defence first and his position against Vietnam is something I will consider...
— Singapore coach V Sundramoorthy on where to deploy Hariss Harun in the final
Former Lions coach says ugly win over Myanmar a good start for Sundram
What are your first impressions of Sundram's Lions?
PN SIVAJI: They looked solid before the game. They were impressive in terms of their physique and confidence compared to Myanmar's puny players.
The Lions walked tall with their chests out, there was a bit of an intimidation factor there and I liked what I saw.
What about the match itself?
With the backing of the 31,000 local fans, Myanmar went on a good run in the first 15 to 20 minutes.
Singapore were not tight enough, left gaps in midfield and required Hassan Sunny to make a fantastic save in the third minute.
Credit to Sundram, he saw what was going on, plugged that gap by getting Safuwan Baharudin to sit back and the Lions took more control in midfield.
For a coach who has been in charge for only a few days, Sundram set his team up to get a result and they did, so that's another positive.
They won a match with a fine goal, although Sundram and his team will not get the credit they deserve.
Because they are Sundram and Singapore, people will say that it was a long ball and a lucky goal.
But if this goal was scored at the European Championship, people will say that it was fantastic ball circulation back and forth in midfield before Baihakki Khaizan's long ball was flicked on by Fazrul Nawaz for Faris Ramli to score.
Does it bother you that the Lions were on the back foot for most of the game against such a young Myanmar team?
This Singapore team are not a dominant passing team, but you don't have to be that to win games.
Sundram may never be able to shake off that defensive-minded tag, but it shouldn't bother him because it is hard to change perceptions. There is nothing wrong being defensive-minded, anyway.
Most if not every football fan loves to watch beautiful football. But we have to be realistic. Ultimately, who wants beautiful football if they can't string wins together?
FAS technical director Michel Sablon is starting to implement his blueprint to develop that kind of football, which we may achieve in the long run.
With this current group of players, we have some who have a good level of technique individually, but not every player is suited to play good passing football, to starting building up from the back, so why persist with that?
All around the world, we see teams who achieve results by parking the bus, and I don't see why Singapore cannot do the same.
From a coaching point of view in a result-oriented world, efficient football is better than beautiful football.
Do you think Singapore will struggle for goals?
I don't think so. Singapore are not bereft of creativity. When Khairul Amri comes back, he can give that spark in attack.
Faris and Gabriel Quak also did well to set up Fazrul, who missed two big chances. But he is a workhorse and gets into good positions. He missed some, but he is going to put away some, too.
And they are not the only guys who can score. Sundram also has big guns in terms of Baihakki, Hariss Harun and Safuwan who can go up for corners or free-kicks from wide positions. With good deliveries, they can do some damage with good headers.
Of course, the Lions need to be more incisive and clinical on the counter-attack to punish their opponents.
I would also like to see the wingers come in from their wide positions to support the lone striker at the right times.
When they do so, the fullbacks can then make more use of the space on the flanks, especially with Nazrul Ahmad Nazari having good pace and Hafiz Abu Sujad possessing a good left foot to whip in the crosses.
Singapore need more variety in the transition from defence and midfield to attack, which we didn't see much of against Myanmar.
But Sundram's label will come in time and we will see a better national team at the Suzuki Cup.
Vietnam looked good against Hong Kong. Do you think it's a foregone conclusion that they will beat Singapore in tomorrow's final?
Absolutely not. Vietnam looked very good, with Le Cong Vinh ever the poacher with two goals, and No. 10 Nguyen Van Quyet creating havoc with his passing and controlled movements.
But their defence looked suspect when dealing with crosses from the wings and balls over the top.
I expect Singapore to play the same way they did against Myanmar with their long-ball approach.
Gabriel and Faris had some good moments on the flanks and they could trouble the Vietnamese.
It may well come down to penalties again and who knows, Hassan could win the Cup for Singapore.