Keen contest for No. 1 spot a good problem for Sundram
Competition for No. 1 spot a good problem for Sundram
Competition for the No. 1 spot in the national team has heightened with Singapore's top two goalkeepers - Hassan Sunny and Izwan Mahbud - plying their trade in Thailand this year.
As the Lions prepare to face the Maldives in tonight's international friendly, national coach V. Sundram Moorthy admitted that he has a "good problem" at hand - stick to the incumbent Hassan or give the returning Izwan a chance?
Izwan, who missed the last international call-up due to a wrist operation, is in his debut season with Thai League 2 (T2) side Nongbua Pitchaya.
The 27-year-old has conceded just four goals in six league games, helping his club move to second in the 15-team table.
His sparkling form has not gone unnoticed.
Sundram told The New Paper during a training session earlier this week: "Honestly, Izwan has been doing very well. He's been playing very well in the Thai league.
"We all know Hassan's qualities but, with Izwan doing well, it's good competition for the No. 1 spot.
"So with Izwan putting himself around, and Hassan is also a good quality 'keeper, it'll be a good selection problem for me when it comes to the games."
Hassan, who plays for another T2 side Army United, also praised his fellow goalkeeper.
Both their teams met during their season-opener last month in Bangkok, which ended in a 1-1 draw.
We all know Hassan’s qualities but, with Izwan doing well, it’s good competition for the No. 1 spot.Lions coach V. Sundram Moorthy
Said Hassan: "I saw him play in some of the games in Thailand and he has improved tremendously.
"Izwan and my team have different playing styles, but when we played against them, it was difficult to break Nongbua's defence.
"Then again, Izwan saved them a couple of times, so he's been improving a lot."
Izwan insisted that he is not too concerned about the No. 1 spot, though.
He said: "Honestly, I didn't even think about the No. 1 spot at all.
"I was going to Thailand for the exposure and to improve my game, so ultimately, it's up to the coaches who they want to pick."
The former Tampines Rovers custodian's last international appearance came in an Asian Cup qualifier last October in Ashgabat against Turkmenistan which the Lions lost 2-1.
He then went for the wrist operation and missed the following month's 1-0 friendly loss to Lebanon and a 3-0 defeat by Group E leaders Bahrain in another Asian Cup qualifier.
Meanwhile, he mulled over the offer from Nongbua and put pen to paper in December.
Hassan, who also had to vie with former No. 1 Lionel Lewis for the place between the sticks, believes that having two in-form goalkeepers can only be good for the team.
Said the 33-year-old, who's also done well at Army United: "While it's very competitive, it's healthy competition.
"After all, we're fighting for the same spot and it's different from outfield players where they can hope to come on in the second half.
"For us goalkeepers, if you consistently play well, then you will keep the place. So the other one will just have to wait and be patient."
Veteran Hassan, who has 72 caps, insists that he is not taking his place in the first XI for granted.
He said: "It's never easy, and it's always been very competitive. Although I've been playing for a few years now, I still don't regard myself as No. 1.
"Before the national team are even called up, I always ask myself if I'm even in the team, so that keeps me on my toes."
Keeping themselves on their toes is an oft-repeated phrase for both overseas-based goalkeepers.
Acutely aware of their status as imports in a foreign league, both Hassan and Izwan reiterated the need to always stay at least one level above the locals.
"Going there as a foreigner also means I always have to perform and be better than the Thai players, so it really keeps me on my toes and take my mind off other things," said Izwan.
Having to play overseas also comes with several sacrifices.
For Izwan, besides having to part with his family, he also took a pay cut. However, he believes that all these are worth it.
He said: "Once I'm there, all I think about is football.
"Of course, sacrifices like being away from my family were hard at first.
"It's also not so much about the pay cut because it's about going there for my exposure and to better my game."