With just under a month to go before the start of the Asean Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup, Singapore national football head coach Fandi Ahmad has on Thursday (11 October) fired off a bold declaration to opponents, “We will surprise them.”
The Lions will face Indonesia, Philippines, Timor Leste and Thailand in Group B of the regional competition, which begins on 9 November. The top two sides will advance to the semi-finals.
While Singapore are four-time winners of the biennial tournament, they have not reached the last four in the last two editions and have struggled with poor results in recent years. With hot favourites Thailand expected to win the group, fans and pundits alike do not expect the Lions to get past the group stage.
Former Philippines national coach Michael Weiss, now in charge of the Mongolian national team whom the Lions will face in a friendly at Bishan Stadium on Friday, even said that he fancies either his old side or Indonesia advancing with Thailand.
The German added, “On paper, it seems that these three countries are the strongest sides in the group, and Singapore are maybe mentally weaker than them.
“But football is not played on paper, so Singapore still have a chance.”
And Fandi has insisted that his side will not be pushovers, despite the Lions finishing winless and bottom of their group in the 2016 Suzuki Cup, while being coached by V. Sundramoorthy.
The 56-year-old former national captain, who took over the head coach post after Sundram resigned in April 2018, told reporters at a press conference, “Other countries may look down on us, they may think we are weak, but we will surprise them. That is my promise.”
Little time for preparation
Fandi does not have much time left to prepare. After Friday’s friendly with Mongolia, the Lions will head off to Phnom Penh to face Cambodia on Tuesday before embarking on a two-week training camp in Osaka, Japan, where they will play against local sides to fine-tune their tactics.
While Fandi has already earmarked 17 players to make the 23-man Suzuki Cup squad barring injuries, there is a key starting position that remains up for grabs – the No. 10 playmaking position.
Regular playmaker Faris Ramli is a question mark as he is just returning from an ankle injury. Adam Swandi and Gabriel Quak are in contention to deputise, with veteran Shahril Ishak coming on as a possible impact substitute.
Quak, 27, said on Thursday, “Competition for the Suzuki Cup squad is intense during training, everyone wants to prove himself to coach Fandi that he can be good for the team at the Suzuki Cup. It’s good that we are going in as underdogs, because people are not expecting much from us and, like coach said, we want to surprise these fans.”
Tactical discipline is key
On Mongolia – who are ranked 186th in the Fifa world rankings, 20 spots below the Lions – Fandi said that the Lions are aware that their opponents are a physical, hard-running side albeit without much playing experience.
“It is a good test for our tactical discipline, whether we can keep our formation compact and stop their runs,” he said.
And tactical discipline will be crucial to the Lions’ Suzuki Cup success, especially when they face the likes of Thailand, who have assembled a squad filled with attack-minded talents such as Chanathip Songkrasin and Theerasil Dangda.
Despite being known for encouraging attacking play, Fandi is under no illusions about the Suzuki Cup.
He said, “We have to be disciplined in defending, in closing opponents down, in keeping a compact formation. This is what I will be drilling into the players in the next few weeks. Other than that, I have to motivate them to fight for the country and find belief among themselves. That is key for us to succeed.”