Madhu and defence hold the key against Syria
Likes of Madhu and Baihakki need to be on top of their game for Syria showdown
At the tail end of the Singapore national team's training session at the Geylang Field yesterday, coach Bernd Stange decided on an eight-a-side game on one half of the pitch.
"Play in your favourite positions," he instructed his players, allowing them a fun run out for the final 20 minutes.
Centre back Madhu Mohana ventured forward as a striker, and after two minutes, he probably wished he hadn't.
Challenging for the ball with goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud, the 24-year-old took a knock in his abdomen and keeled over in pain. He sat out the rest of the session, clutching his ribs.
"It's nothing, just a knock. It's an old injury, lah," he told The New Paper.
"I should be fine. I'll know better when I wake up the next day."
Stange and the rest of the Lions will be hoping Madhu wakes up pain-free today when they leave for Doha to take on Qatar in a friendly match tomorrow (midnight, Singapore time).
The game will be Singapore's final tune-up before they take on Syria in their World Cup qualifier on Sept 3 in Muscat, Oman.
Singapore, top of Group E, have four successive home games after Syria.
And Stange's men are targeting at least a point next Thursday to keep alive their goal of a top-two finish, which qualify them for the 2019 Asian Cup - a first for the national team.
Keeping it tight at the back will be crucial, and the defenders will very much be in the spotlight over the next week or so.
Madhu is set to start in central defence alongside the experienced Baihakki Khaizan, with Nazrul Nazari and Shaiful Esah favourites to occupy the right and left back positions respectively.
Stange, however, declined to reveal who he has in mind for his back four against Syria.
Tampines Rovers' Shaiful will miss the Qatar friendly because his club have an S.League match tonight, while Baihakki, along with midfield Hariss Harun and forward Shahril Ishak, will be involved with Johor Darul Ta'zim's first and second teams in the AFC Cup and Malaysia Cup play-offs respectively.
Said Stange: "We have many options in (central) defence - Madhu, Bai, Safuwan (Baharudin) and Zulfahmi (Arifin).
"If I say which players I will play, and then Madhu is out with a rib injury, I will have to explain differently later on.
"So I don't want to confuse the media and the players. I will see what feels right before the game and how we defend against Qatar."
The 67-year-old German coach knows his men must keep it tight against Syria, whom the Lions beat 2-1 (home) and lost 3-0 (away) in 2013 during the 2015 Asian Cup qualifiers.
"In all away matches we must defend well. If we lose it's not over, but if we take a point or three, we can make history."
Syria will spark good memories for Madhu. The 2-1 victory against them at the Jalan Besar Stadium marked his first cap for the national side.
"That was an eye-opening experience for me," the 24-year-old LionsXII defender said.
"Physically they were stronger, but we played well as a team that night. It's good knowing that we can beat them."