Watch out for Safuwan-Ramsay midfield battle
Former mates Safuwan and Ramsay will not hold back tonight, and then catch up for tea
REPORTING FROM MANILA
PHILIPPINES v SINGAPORE
(Tonight, 7.30pm, Singtel TV Ch 114 & StarHub TV Ch 208)
First the battle, then a cup of tea.
Singapore ace Safuwan Baharudin and Philippines midfielder Iain Ramsay will lock horns in an individual midfield duel tonight, when their teams clash in the opening Group A match at the Philippine Sports Stadium in Bocaue.
They will probably send biting tackles flying each other's way during the match, but will share an embrace at the final whistle.
After all, they once played on the same side, for Australian outfit Melbourne City, where Safuwan was on loan for five months early last year.
The Singaporean even had a part to play in Perth-born Ramsay's decision to take up Filipino citizenship.
After the Philippine team's hour long training session at the 20,000-capacity match venue last night, Ramsay told The New Paper: "I decided in the middle of last year to take it up.
"In fact, I spoke to 'Safu' before joining the Philippines, and we chatted quite a bit about Asian football.
"I've been enjoying my time with the Azkals ever since. This is a really good tournament to play in, for me it's my first time, and I'm really looking forward to the opening game."
Since making his debut for the country of his mother's birth in May last year, the 28-year-old Ramsay has earned 12 caps and scored three goals.
Safuwan, who now plays for Malaysian side PDRM FA, told TNP: "We get along well during my time at City and I shared with him what South-east Asian football was about.
"We actually spent some time talking about him joining the Philippines national team and I encouraged him to take it up, because I thought it was a great opportunity for him to play international matches."
The 25-year-old counts Ramsay as one of those who helped him settle and made his stay in Melbourne a successful one.
The Singaporean played six games and scored two goals, and was voted Man of the Match once.
"Iain is a great guy on and off the pitch, and he's a true professional," said Safuwan.
"He's a good teammate to hang around with and I enjoyed the time I spent with him and the others.
"It will be exciting to play against him tomorrow and I'm looking forward to the match.
"We are both professionals so we will fight hard on the pitch.
"But we are good friends off and have already arranged to have tea together after the tournament."
Ramsay says the Azkals are well aware of the threat Safuwan poses.
"When he first came to Melbourne, we were impressed with how good his timing was with his headers," said the former Sydney FC and Adelaide United man.
"I think more than that he also made Singapore fans and footballers very proud because he held his own in the A-League, which is not a weak league. He can hold his head very high.
"Whatever it is, I know when the battle commences on the field, we'll be competitive.
"It'll be a nice moment for us to face each other, having played together before.
"It's going to be a nice experience and I think it'll be a very good game tomorrow."
Everyone knows the quality he has. That’s why he’s playing abroad. He’s one of Singapore’s outstanding players. And I believe he can make a big contribution as we hope to get off to a good start.
— Singapore coach Sundram on Safuwan Baharudin
He gives his everything all the time and this good attitude rubs off on the other players. He’s got a very strong left foot, he’s good at finishing, and we saw him score with his right (in the 3-2 loss) against North Korea. He’s very technical and has an excellent work ethic.
— Philippines coach Thomas Dooley on Iain Ramsay
GROUP A (Manila, Philippines)
- Thailand v Indonesia (4.30pm)
- Singapore v Philippines (8pm)
GROUP B (Yangon, Myanmar)
- Malaysia v Cambodia (4.30pm)
- Myanmar v Vietnam (7.30pm)
LOCALS BACK AZKALS TRIUMPH
Anything less than a win, would be a letdown.
That's the view of the local media here ahead of tonight's big kickoff.
Jonathan Terrado, sports journalist with local daily Manila Bulletin, said: "It would be disappointing for us if the match ends in a draw.
"Everyone's talking about us being one of the two semi-finalists from Group A.
"We are without (main striker Javier) Patino, but I believe our strength in midfield will make up for the loss."
While the form book points to a win for the home side, Terrado was wary.
Philippines have beaten world No. 99 side Kyrgyzstan twice in three months, while Singapore's 1-0 win over 167th-ranked Cambodia last week snapped a run of six winless games.
"Everyone can say we're the favourites, but until the first match, you never know," he said.
"I heard Singapore haven't been in good form, but the Suzuki Cup could be where they turn it around. So we will see."
Azkals fan Eddy Benavides is praying for a win.
Football is still far from being the No. 1 sport in the country, with basketball, boxing and mixed martial arts well ahead.
"I think football will only become really popular if the team win a tournament like the Suzuki Cup," said the 22-year-old.
So we want to beat Singapore and then try qualify for the final.
We have high hopes for the team this year, and I think only Thailand are clearly ahead of us."
- SAZALI ABDUL AZIZ