Sundram and Tampines confident of winning S.League title
They are the favourites for this year's Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League title.
But, if Tampines Rovers and their high-profile new head coach V Sundramoorthy are feeling the weight of expectation, they are doing a great job of hiding it.
Ahead of their season-opener tonight, when they visit darkhorses Albirex Niigata at the Jurong East Stadium, the mood in the Stags camp yesterday was relaxed.
Sundram, who famously led the LionsXII to the Malaysian Super League title in 2013, chatted with former Singapore captain Indra Sahdan in between sips of tea.
Aleksandar Duric, who retired last November and now assists Sundram by keeping Tampines' players fighting fit, sat in the team office flipping through a copy of The New Paper on Sunday.
Speaking to TNP, Sundram said: "It's good to be back in our local league and I'm looking forward to the season ahead.
"I know all the talk of us as favourites but, for me, football is all about pressure and how we handle it.
"We have got a good group of players here and, with the support of our chairman Mr Teo (Hock Seng), I'm confident we will get there."
After finishing third last year and ending the season empty-handed, Tampines Rovers, who won the title from 2011 to 2013, embarked on an eye-catching rebuilding project in the close season.
In addition to installing Sundram at the helm, the Stags added more talent to a squad already featuring some big names.
Now, 13 of the club's 16 local players have been capped at international level for Singapore.
But it has not been all smooth-sailing for the Stags.
First, a hitch in the loan transfer of goalkeeper Fadhil Salim from Hougang United means the unheralded Joey Sim will start against Albirex.
Hougang have informed Fadhil he must submit documents to the club for their case against Warriors FC coach Alex Weaver, who they claim made an illegal approach for the 32-year-old shot-stopper.
It is believed Fadhil, who was unavailable for comment, has yet to comply.
Tampines also suffered a blow when Australian playmaker Srecko Mitrovic had to undergo ankle surgery, which ruled him out until the middle of the year.
The club moved quickly to sign former Brunei DPMM import Roberto Alviz as cover last week.
Neither incident has shaken Sundram's confidence.
"Joey has done very well for us in pre-season and I believe he's ready," said the 49-year-old coach.
"As for Alviz, it's a one-for-one case. We've managed to replace a good player with a good player."
Sim, who was not the automatic first choice at Geylang International in 2014 - the Eagles finished eighth in last season's 12-team league - is looking forward to his Stags debut.
"I'm excited," said the 27-year-old, who was part of Singapore's 2012 AFF Suzuki Cup-winning team.
"Of course, at a bigger club, there's greater pressure. Previously, at Geylang for example, the target are to get into the top six. Here, it's to win.
"The whole squad are mentally prepared for the challenge ahead and, in terms of how we approach games, we have just got to go out and do our best in each match.
"Everybody can't wait for tomorrow's game."