Physical encounter ahead
Lions brace for bruising encounter with aggressive Philippine side
REPORTING FROM MANILA
PHILIPPINES v SINGAPORE
(Tomorrow, 7.30pm, Singtel TV Ch 114 & StarHub TV Ch 208)
Going by Fifa's world rankings, they are the top dogs in South-east Asia.
Going by playing style, the region will be hard pressed to find another team who play a game as physical as the Philippines do.
But Singapore's players are not feeling intimidated ahead of their clash with the hosts in their opening AFF Suzuki Cup match tomorrow.
At the Philippine Sports Stadium, they will go face to face with a home side boasting an attacking trio - Mark Hartmann, James Younghusband and Phil Younghusband - all more than 1.8 metres tall.
At the Ateneo de Manila University, about a half an hour's drive along the dimly lit streets of Manila from the team hotel in Cubao, Singapore defender Daniel Bennett was quick to point out that size isn't everything.
After the Lions' 90-minute training session yesterday, he told The New Paper: "Yeah, against a team like the Philippines, you have to match up physically.
"If you're not as big, you have to be clever too.
"They're big boys, but our players have got qualities some bigger players may not have."
In the Philippines' last match, a 1-0 win over world No. 99 side Kyrgyzstan in Manila, seven players in their starting 11 stood above 1.78m.
However, it's not just about the players' heights, but also the physical style that they are used to playing.
Tapping into their global diaspora, the Azkals feature many foreign-born players from Europe.
This expanded talent pool is a huge factor in their rise to No. 124 in the world rankings. Singapore are 171st.
Centre half Bennett, who is 1.84m tall, said: "A majority of these guys come from England or Germany, and that's the style of football they've played from young.
"They're strong, they're fighters. If we back down, we'll have a problem."
Singapore midfielder Hariss Harun, who stands at 1.78m, warned that while he and his teammates are ready to get stuck in, they also have to make sure they have cool heads.
"A physical battle can become an emotional one too," said the 25-year-old, who will wear the captain's armband with skipper Shahril Ishak likely to be among the substitutes.
"So, while we have to be up for it, we must also keep our cool and be in control of our emotions."
National coach V Sundramoorthy did not sound too concerned with the physical challenge that await his charges.
"The Philippines are a good team, you just have to look at their ranking and recent results," he said.
"They're physically strong too. But I believe it's about which team turn up on the day."
His players sounded equally confident.
"We've had a couple of games against physical teams, and we've had similar challenges in the past, so we are ready," said Hariss. "This is not something beyond our reach."
Bennett believes that they are well prepared for the task ahead.
Despite Singapore being written off in some quarters, the 38-year-old veteran, who has won the Asean title thrice, feels that the Lions remain a force to be reckoned with.
He said: "We've been preparing for the Philippines match with games against the likes of Syria and Bahrain.
"I don't see why anyone would count us out."