Sundram unfazed by tough Suzuki Cup draw
Lions get tough draw, but Sundram urges focus on own performance, not rivals'
If Singapore are to win a record fifth AFF Suzuki Cup in December, they will have to do it the hard way.
At last night's tournament draw in Yangon, Myanmar, the Lions were handed the toughest possible draw, after being grouped with the top two Asean teams, going by Fifa rankings.
V Sundramoorthy's charges, who are ranked 158th in the world, were drawn in Group A alongside Thailand (121st), group hosts the Philippines (135th), and Indonesia (191st).
Group B comprises hosts Myanmar (160th), Malaysia (167th) and Vietnam (139th). They will be joined by the winners of a qualification tournament in October, contested by Laos (177th), Cambodia (180th), Timor Leste (185th) and Brunei (198th).
Despite the tough draw, Sundram remained bullish about Singapore's chances.
The Singapore coach, known as The Dazzler in his playing days, told The New Paper over the phone yesterday: "We're playing against the defending champions and a Philippine side that are on a high, they just beat North Korea (3-2 in March).
"Indonesia, we don't know what sort of team will turn up after their ban (a one-year suspension that was lifted in May).
"At the end of the day, it's about us.
"If we keep working, stay positive and move forward, anything can happen.
"We have good players and we know what matters is putting our best performance on the pitch.
"So it doesn't matter which group we're in."
Lions striker Khairul Amri is expecting a competitive tournament, claiming that any of the seven teams drawn yesterday could end up as tournament winners.
He said: "There is little difference in the standards among the teams in South-east Asia today.
"We were very unlucky at the 2014 edition, where we conceded very late penalties against Thailand and Malaysia.
"Let's not forget that we had many young players who were then participating in their first international competition, such as Shakir Hamzah, Faris Ramli and Gabriel Quak.
"They have since matured and, together with other young talents who have progressed through the youth development system, I am confident that our team will put up a good performance."
Singapore hosted the 2014 edition of the biennial tournament at the 55,000-seater National Stadium at the Sports Hub, which was opened in July that year.
In what was supposed to be a grand occasion at the spectacular new venue, the Lions, led by German coach Bernd Stange, flopped in their defence of the regional crown they won two years earlier.
Defeats by Thailand (1-2) and Malaysia (1-3), sandwiched by a 4-2 win over Myanmar, saw them being dumped out of the competition at the group stage.
The Thais, coached by Kiatisuk Senamuang, went on to claim a fourth Suzuki Cup title, beating Malaysia in the final.
The 42-year-old former star striker told TNP yesterday that his side's goal is to retain their title, but added that it would be a challenge as there are also World Cup qualifying commitments to worry about.
Thailand are the only Asean team to have progressed to the third round of the World Cup qualifiers, and have a match against Australia just four days before the Suzuki Cup kicks off on Nov 19.
Said Kiatisuk: "It's a very tough group because Singapore and Philippines are very strong teams.
"We will do our best to prepare for the Suzuki Cup, but we also have World Cup qualifiers, so some of our players might be overloaded by then.
"But we will try our best to win the trophy again.
"We're Thailand, I have no choice. We cannot be second or third in Suzuki Cup."
Kiatisuk, who was part of the Thai "Dream Team" that lifted three Suzuki Cups in 1996, 2000 and 2002, claimed that every team in Asean "give over 100 per cent" when playing his side.
Only an unlikely Singapore victory in the 1998 edition - the Lions' first piece of international silverware - denied the War Elephants a clean sweep of the first four tournaments.
Under Serbian coach Raddy Avramovic, Singapore then claimed two more titles, in 2004 and 2007, before Vietnam (2008) and Malaysia (2010) ended the duopoly between the Lions and Thailand.
Avramovic, though, managed to lead Singapore to one more title, in 2012, in his swansong tournament.
'Create a siege mentality, Lions'
KEEP COOL: Former national coach PN Sivaji tells the Lions not to be affected if they are written off. TNP FILE PHOTO
Make Singapore hard to beat and steal the winner from a counter-attack, says former national coach P N Sivaji.
Hold Thailand and beat the Philippines and Indonesia, chips in Richard Bok, a three-time S.League Coach of the Year.
The two reactions, analysed thoroughly, bring to surface the tough challenge Singapore face at this year's Asean Football Federation Suzuki Cup from Nov 19 to Dec 17.
It was a draw Singapore dreaded, grouped with defending champions Thailand, co-hosts and rising force the Philippines and former greats Indonesia, who have just returned from a 12-month Fifa ban.
And with only two teams from the group making it to the semi-finals at the 11th edition of the biennial tournament, coach V Sundramoorthy's charges face a tall order.
"It is indeed a tough group and, in my books, Singapore have their work cut out for them," added Sivaji, also a former technical director, in a phone interview.
"The team should also create a siege mentality as the press will write our chances off, and they should not let that affect them."
Said Bok: "Sundram will need to prepare the players well and let them get ample rest before the tournament."
Former Singapore striker Aleksandar Duric, who was part of the Lions' 2012 Suzuki Cup-winning side, thinks this team will be able to turn in a creditable performance with Sundram at the helm.
He said: "The boys have enough experience and I believe that they will be able to finish well with Sundram's guidance."
Former national goalkeeper Lionel Lewis, who won the Most Valuable Player award when the Lions bagged the 2004 edition of the AFF Championship, also backed Sundram's side, saying: "They should focus on one game at a time, rather than their whole group.
"It's not going to be easy as the standard of the rivals is one or maybe even two levels higher than Singapore's."
TNP FILE PHOTO
“We will do our best to prepare for the Suzuki Cup, but we also have World Cup qualifiers, so some of our players might be overloaded by then... We’re Thailand, I have no choice. We cannot be second or third in Suzuki Cup.”
— Thailand coach Kiatisuk Senamuang, whose side face Australia in a World Cup qualifier just four days before the Suzuki Cup kicks off on Nov 19