Sundram springs Safuwan surprise for Bahrain clash
National coach Sundram set to deploy versatile Lion as a winger in surprise move
He first made his name as a reliable centre back for the national team when the Lions won the 2012 Suzuki Cup.
Safuwan Baharudin has also been fielded as a forward for his aerial prowess, as well as a central midfielder, because of his ball-winning and passing abilities.
When V Sundramoorthy told The New Paper last week to watch out for a new role for the utility man, it was anyone's guess where the Singapore national coach would deploy the 25-year-old for tonight's Asian Cup qualifier Group E opener against Bahrain.
Based on recent Lions' training sessions, Safuwan could find himself in an unfamiliar position of a left winger when he steps out at the Bahrain National Stadium.
In the two sessions in Doha and Riffa, Sundram has been trying out the PDRM FA star on the left wing, in front of fullback Shakir Hamzah, with Daniel Bennett reinstated to central defence alongside Irfan Fandi.
The Dazzler was seen working with goalkeeper Hassan Sunny and the back four plus skipper and defensive midfielder Hariss Harun, while assistant coach Fandi Ahmad drilled the more advanced five, which included forward Khairul Nizam, in counter-attacks.
Due to injuries and tactics, Sundram may also change both his wingers from the 2-1 friendly defeat by Afghanistan in Doha, Qatar last Thursday, with Faris Ramli and goalscorer Shawal Anuar replaced by Safuwan and another all-rounder Juma'at Jantan.
The 51-year-old told TNP yesterday: "Safuwan and Juma'at are experienced players.
"Tactically, they understand the way we want to approach the game and I believe they can deliver what we need.
"We need to be very disciplined. When we lose possession, everyone must understand his role - coming back to position and working as a group, making sure we do not allow Bahrain space and time on the ball, especially when they are in our half."
It is also clear that Sundram wants to deny the Bahrainis width by deploying two of his better ball-winners on the flanks.
Safuwan, who partnered Irfan in defence against Afghanistan, said: "My role is to ensure we have more numbers defending when the opponents have the ball.
"When we get the ball, I will try to combine with the rest of the players to move forward.
"I played on the left only twice for PDRM and once for the national team after Hafiz (Abu Sujad) got sent off against the Philippines in the 0-0 draw in the Suzuki Cup last November.
"It is not a familiar position for me, but the team always come first and I will do whatever it takes for the team to do well."
While Safuwan will be expected to shore up the defence, he still fancies himself making an impact up front. After all, he has scored against Bahrain in 3-1 losses here in 2013 and last year, with Sundram the caretaker national coach on both occasions.
Singapore, 163rd in the world rankings, have not beaten the 127th-ranked hosts in six Fifa 'A' internationals.
"While defence is key, I think I can still sneak in a goal against Bahrain," said Safuwan, who has six international goals in 67 caps. "Bahrain are strong opponents. We have played them a few times and we never got the result we wanted. But we want to try to get a win or at least a point."
Sundram was happy to get the hardest group fixture out of the way.
He said: "I feel it's actually good to play Bahrain, the strongest team in our group, away first. People are expecting us to lose but, if we don't, then it's a great start for us.
"We then have two home games to put ourselves in a good position. Sure, we have not beaten Bahrain before, but anything is possible in football, even if we are the underdogs."
David Lee and Benjamin Seetor's trip is sponsored by Qatar Airways Singapore. Qatar Airways has a modern fleet of 195 aircraft flying to more than 150 business and leisure destinations, including Doha and Bahrain. The world's fastest-growing airline will add a number of exciting new destinations, including Dublin, Nice and Skopje, to its network this year.