Tampines v Selangor 'like a cup final'
Sundram: Win-or-bust AFC Cup match against Selangor is 'like a cup final'
TAMPINES v SELANGOR
(Tomorrow, 7pm, StarHub TV Ch 210 & Singtel TV Ch 116)
V Sundramoorthy has forged a reputation for building his team from the back, claiming 26 clean sheets while in charge of 71 games, or one every 2.73 games with the LionsXII.
However, after he moved to Tampines Rovers in 2014, his Stags have kept only 27 clean sheets in 100 games, or just one in every 3.7 games.
Yet, the 50-year-old is not worried about his defence ahead of tomorrow's win-or-bust AFC Cup Group E match against Selangor at the National Stadium.
With a glint in his eye, the Dazzler told The New Paper: "We have to win to progress, so of course I will take a 4-3 win over a goalless draw.
"We want to excite and entertain, and we are confident we will make it. If it has to be a big scoreline, so be it."
When pressed for an explanation about the seemingly more porous defence, which features LionsXII alumni such as goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud and defenders Afiq Yunos, Shakir Hamzah and Hafiz Abu Sujad, Sundram said Tampines and the LionsXII play differently.
"Look at the way Tampines line up, we are always pushing up to attack," he said. "This means that opponents will have chances. We can create 10 and our opponents may have two. If we score four from our 10 chances, we are home and hosed.
"The LionsXII were a younger team, so I decided we should be tighter defensively, and it was very effective.
"At Tampines, we have more attacking players, so naturally, we have to play to our strength."
Afiq agreed with his coach's assessment, adding: "It's not that we have forgotten how to defend.
"We beat Selangor away 1-0, executing a five-man defence to perfection. It's just that sometimes the opponents score good goals against us, while at other times we are to blame, such as the penalties that cost us recently.
"But, on Tuesday, we have to win at all costs, so we are not going to sit back."
The last time the Stags made it past the AFC Cup group stages was in 2011 when they lost 1-0 to Iraqi side Arbil in the Round of 16.
And the new Tampines management has long stated its ambitions to make further inroads in the competition.
However, after collecting seven points in their first three games, they lost their last two to find themselves on the brink of elimination, unless they beat Selangor and progress at the Red Giants' expense.
Sundram said: "This is like a cup final for us.
"We haven't qualified in years, but it is still in our hands.
"The boys know the importance of this match and they know how to lift their game for the occasion."
However, one Tampines player who is always pining for a clean sheet is goalkeeper Izwan.
The 25-year-old said: "Selangor have good import forwards such as Patrick Wleh and Mauro Olivi and local attackers such as Ahmad Hazwan Bakri and R Gopinathan.
"So if we can prevent them from scoring, half the battle is won.
"The clean sheet statistics don't worry because they only go to show how hard it is to keep on over 90 minutes.
"It is not just down to a goalkeeper but also a team effort, and that's what we will be looking for on Tuesday."
“It is a big game for Tampines and we will do all we can to win it. Playing at a bigger arena, there will be more empty seats. But, it is not going to affect us because we are focused on winning.”
— Tampines’ Jermaine Pennant