AFF Cup: Myanmar coach rips into Jalan Besar's artificial pitch ahead of Lions clash
SINGAPORE — The artificial pitch at Jalan Besar Stadium - where key Singapore players Ikhsan Fandi and Adam Swandi suffered recent knee injuries - came under fire ahead of the Lions' opening AFF Mitsubishi Electric Cup match against Myanmar on Saturday (24 December).
Myanmar's German football coach Antoine Hey fired the first salvo in his opening speech during Friday's media conference, declaring that he is not a fan of artificial turfs.
"For junior football, maybe it's a good idea, but for very intensive senior international matches, I doubt it is a very useful solution," the 52-year-old said of the pitch where his team will face Singapore on.
"If it's such a good idea, why are there no top international competitions - the World Cup, the Asian Championship or the Champions League - playing on them? What is the reason for us to play on this?
"Youth development football, it's okay to use artificial pitches to keep to the same standards. But for international football, with all the dynamics and all the speed... You just saw the two injuries (to your players), it's not coming from nowhere."
Ikhsan and Adam were stretchered off with serious-looking knee injuries after playing in the Lions' friendly against the Maldives at Jalan Besar last Saturday, and both are ruled out of the AFF Cup.
The injuries are big blows to the Lions' hopes of advancing out of Group B into the semi-finals, as they have to contend with title favourites Vietnam as well as tricky sides like Malaysia, Myanmar and Laos.
The artificial pitch at Jalan Besar - which has been in place since 2006 - has often come under criticism from foreign sides playing on it, as they point out that it may be more harmful to players' legs and joints compared to regular grass pitches.
When asked about the situation, Lions coach Takayuki Nishigaya said, "We cannot change anything now. We have to focus on what we can do, and then if we get to the semi-finals, we can use the National Stadium".
Lions coach is focused only on Myanmar match
Nishigaya was also reluctant to be drawn into any speculation on the Lions' chances at the AFF Cup, repeatedly insisting that he is only focused getting his charges ready for the Myanmar clash.
When asked about which group-stage match would be key in the Lions' bid to advance into the semi-finals, he said through an interpreter, "I'm now only focused on the next opponent."
When asked about the key areas which the Lions need to be on top of against Myanmar, he was also reticent to comment much, simply saying, "I have confidence in my players."
While Nishigaya was terse at the media conference, captain Hariss Harun was more forthcoming about his team hoping to repeat, or even improve, on last AFF Cup's semi-finals showing.
"A lot of things have happened over the course of the year, given that we've changed our coach and are going through the process of adapting to coach Nishigaya," he said during the media conference.
"It's natural that fans have expectations for us to maintain our semi-finals showing, But the competition format is different this year - instead of having all the games in Singapore, we have to travel for away games. So it's a different challenge for the team.
"I hope that the players can adapt to the challenge. Maybe the travelling could take their minds away from the expectations of the fans."
The Lions will be looking to get their AFF Cup campaign off to a positive start against Myanmar, who were unlucky in their opening group match against Malaysia in Yangon on Wednesday.
Malaysia had to work hard to earn their 1-0 victory, with Faisal Halim netting the winner seven minutes into the second half against Myanamr. They also had goalkeeper Sylhan Hazmi to thank for saving a stoppage-time penalty from Win Naing Tun to preserve their victory.
Vietnam also underlined their credentials as title favourites with a ruthless 6-0 demolition of Laos in Vientiane, with six different players scoring - Nguyen Tien Linh (15th), Do Hung Dung (43rd), Ho Tan Tai (55th), Doan Van Hau (58th), Nguyen Van Toan (82nd) and Vu Van Thanh (91st).
They will be a big hurdle for Singapore to negotiate in their next home match on Friday, before heading off to Kuala Lumpur to face arch-rivals Malaysia in the final group match.
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