Lions need to show more self-belief: Quak
Rejuvenated winger says moving out of comfort zone has helped him improve
It's been a while since the Lions had swagger in their step, something that winger Gabriel Quak believes is sorely missing from the side ahead of their clash against Timor-Leste at the National Stadium tomorrow.
National interim coach Fandi Ahmad has decreed his side go for goals against the Asean Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup Group B minnows to put themselves in a good position to qualify for the semi-finals .
Things seem to be working in his favour, with Timor-Leste surprisingly losing only 3-2 to the Philippines on Saturday.
Should holders Thailand beat the Azkals tomorrow, a two-goal win over Timor Leste would see the Lions leapfrog Philippines into second place, ahead of a tie against an already-qualified War Elephants in Bangkok on Sunday.
Quak isn't looking so far ahead and believes his side need to take to the field tomorrow with self-belief against a side that have conceded 13 goals in their three defeats at the biennial tournament.
The 27-year-old told The New Paper: "What is important is we have that bit of swagger in us, especially coming into these kinds of games.
"And it's not just Timor-Leste, even against teams like the Philippines and Thailand, we shouldn't look up to them like they are far superior."
There is definitely a swagger in Quak's game at the moment, his lovely piece of skill on the wing was crucial in Hariss Harun's winner against Indonesia on Nov 9 but, crucially, he has married it with a sense of steeliness in the defensive side of his game - something that was criticised previously.
He was refreshingly candid about how these improvements came about, putting it down to a combination of factors, such as moving out of his comfort zone to play in the Thai top tier with Thai Navy this year, the maturity of age and not wanting to feel like a "passenger" in the national team.
He said: "I don't have (one) particular reason... but this year is different for me, moving overseas.
"I would actually say in my time there, I learnt a lot, and being away by myself toughened me up in many aspects...
"It made me tougher mentally and, for me, that is the most important thing...
"Ultimately, it's how much I want it, because I was left out of the national team for the past one year and in the year before that, when I was in the team, I was like a passenger under (V. Sundram Moorthy).
"I was in but not in. I want to make up for lost time...
"I would say the coach didn't have much faith or trust in me, but I can't blame him because every coach has his preferred set of players...
"I worked under Fandi for a long time (at LionsXII) and he knows what I can offer and I know his style.
"It's not a new formula. It's just that there are so many ingredients coming together. Being 27, we are at the latter stages of our careers, and we tend to cherish it more.
"You know that in the Singapore context, once you reach the big three (zero), you tend to become a bit unwanted.
"It's now or never to prove (myself)... Being in the comfort zone of Singapore, we tend to take things for granted.
"Moving to Thailand has made me appreciate the sacrifices my wife has made taking care of our daughter alone."
The two biggest enhancements in Quak's game, which have been noticed by his coach and fans alike, are his defensive work rate and an improved end product.
Explaining how the changes came about, he said: "On my defensive work rate, it boils down to the communication between the (national) coaches and me.
"We had individual talks with the coaches and they made it known to me what I could do and where they wanted more from me.
"In terms of end product, in the Singapore context, players mature at a later age.
"I've learnt so much (in Thailand), for example, as a foreign player, I have to deliver.
"In the past, I tended to be very casual with the ball. For me, losing the ball is, never mind we can win it back.
"Right now, it's more like not wanting to lose the ball. After all, it's all about the end product, that's what people want to see.
"I tried to tweak my mindset and add a little bit to my game. I'm glad it has not gone unnoticed."