Hope to beat Malaysia but don't talk about it
He took a sip of his coffee, placed the cup on the table, and said it with a straight face.
"There's no point going hell for leather against Malaysia because, if we go full pace and try to match them one on one, we'll hurt our chances for the rest of the tournament," men's national hockey coach Solomon Casoojee told The New Paper yesterday.
Singapore open their Asian Games campaign against their Causeway rivals tomorrow, but this is not a surrender, no.
Casoojee insisted it is a calculated move, even if the Singapore team seem to have their best chance of beating their closest neighbours in a major tournament since 1973.
Earlier this year, they travelled twice to Muscat in a mission to beat Oman, Asia's sixth-ranked team, after the Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC) did not ratify their official qualification through the Asian Games qualifiers in March.
On their second attempt, Singapore (10th in Asia) managed to pip the Omanis twice.
Malaysia are ranked two spots above Oman in the Asian ladder, but look vulnerable.
Since they lost to Pakistan in the final at the 2010 Asian Games, they have been on a poor run of form.
The Malaysians lost all of their six matches at this year's World Cup, finishing last.
Last month, they fell 4-2 to unfancied Trinidad and Tobago at the Commonwealth Games, and ended up seventh in Glasgow, Scotland.
But the Singapore camp, at least outwardly, insist their opponents in their opening Group A game are a completely different proposition.
"We have to be practical against Malaysia, because even their younger players have got more than 100 caps to their name - that's the kind of experience they bring to the games," said assistant coach Sunil Prasad, a former Malaysian international.
"It is a long tournament and against Malaysia, it's really about how we manage the game."
Singapore certainly have a tough start.
They face hosts South Korea a day after the Malaysia game on Sept 21, then Bangladesh (Sept 23) and Japan (Sept 25), before the semi-finals and ranking classifications begin.
Singapore's coaching tandem believe it is key to keep their charges fresh for the matches that matter.
"Against the top six, we want to be competitive, and not get blown off the park. It is a matter of picking and choosing your moments," said South African Casoojee.
"The game against Bangladesh is our biggest match, in terms of where we are now.
"Oman, Bangladesh and us are at about the same level - between seventh and ninth in Asia, and our primary goal is to finish top of that pile."
While he had his eyes on a sixth-placed finish, Casoojee knew the opening match would likely be the dress rehearsal for next year's South-east Asia (SEA) Games gold-medal clash in Singapore.
And he would have been heartened by Malaysia's recent poor results.
In the lead up to the Asiad, Malaysia lost 2-0 to club side Incheon City, a team, according to Malaysia daily The Star, that do not boast any South Korean internationals.
Still, Singapore are keeping their focus on their pre-tournament goal.
"Malaysia are going through a rocky patch, and we don't know how they're going to react here.
"But, in any case, they will be a good sounding board of where we are now, and what we have to do until the SEA Games next year," said Casoojee.
"While Malaysia generally won't send their strongest side to the SEA Games, they will (at the Asiad), and this match will give us an idea of how much we have to do."
"We know that not many think much of us anyway, but we want to walk out onto the pitch knowing we’ve prepared as best we can, and deliver to the best of our ability."
— Solomon Casoojee