Nazri takes pleasure from derby pressure
Lions caretaker coach sees AirMarine Cup clash with Malaysia as a challenge
Having been given the honour to coach the national football team, Nazri Nasir could not have asked for a more difficult opponent for his debut, one that could turn his dream job into a nightmare.
Facing arch-rivals Malaysia tonight in the AirMarine Cup at the Bukit Jalil Stadium, the former national captain is embracing the stress and strain of the fixture, though.
"The pressure is like a pleasure," he told The Straits Times yesterday from Kuala Lumpur, sounding cheerful.
"I'm taking the game positively, I see it as a challenge and I hope this can rub off on the players."
On March 7, the Football Association of Singapore announced Nazri as the caretaker coach, leading the Lions for this week's AirMarine Cup quadrangular, their first outing since last November's Asean Football Federation Suzuki Cup.
Singapore will meet Malaysia tonight, while Afghanistan play Oman in the afternoon. The winners will contest the final on Saturday, with the losers meeting in the third-place play-off.
Since then, the 48-year-old coach has managed to train the squad only twice.
The first, a 90-minute session on Monday, focused on small-sided games and finishing. The second, a one-hour session, was conducted yesterday evening to home in on tactics.
Apart from goalkeeper Zaiful Nizam, who is nursing a calf strain, the rest of the 22-man squad have no injury problems.
The Lions are ranked 165th in the Fifa rankings, while Malaysia are two rungs below.
However, at last year's Suzuki Cup, it was the Tigers who reached the final before losing 3-2 to Vietnam on aggregate while the Lions crashed out at the group stage.
Malaysia coach Tan Cheng Hoe told Malaysian media: "(Our) spirits are high - that's good, but I want to make sure they adapt to the way we play.
"It is different from their clubs. Training sessions have been different for them, but they've adjusted.
"Playing against Singapore is not going to be easy. I've told the boys not to be emotional, but to just concentrate on the game."
Even though Malaysia have home advantage, Nazri can sense the determination coursing through the Lions.
He said: "Even from one training session, I can see that all players are eager to go.
"Guys like (Khairul) Amri, (Khairul) Nizam, Yasir (Hanapi), Gabriel (Quak) and Faris (Ramli) all looked very sharp. All players are hungry to be in the first XI.
"We are not going to sit and wait for Malaysia to attack us. We will pressure them from the start.
"Chances are very few at international games but, when they appear, I want the players to be focused and take these chances.
"We are not expecting a draw. Malaysia will be very tough opponents, this is a very big rivalry and both sides want to win. But I trust my players to deliver."