2016 Suzuki Cup preview: Looking at the Singapore Lions
by rick olivares
This is a new time for the Singapore Lions. They are once more charting new ground. This is the first year since 2000 where a Singaporean-born coach is tasked to lead the team. That’s 16 years of foreign coaches and three Suzuki Cup championships (the Lions won the championship in 1998 with an English coach but soon after that, they went with Singaporean Vincent Subramaniam).
The homegrown challenge will be led by Varadaraju Sundramoothy who is no stranger to charting courses for his country. “Sundram” as the coach is fondly nicknamed, is the second Singaporean to play in Europe having suited up for FC Basel during the 1988-89 season. He is regarded as a dazzling player whose on-field pyrotechnics led to some memorable goals.
Yet despite playing the midfielder and forward positions during his – here’s the coincidence -- 16-year career, as the coach of his side, he espouses pragmatism. More so since the 2-1 loss to Cambodia for the first time in 42 years and two wins in eight matches preceding this tournament.
These Lions have a few veterans who have seen a lot of caps and have a lot of mileage in their legs. What Sundram and his predecessor, German coach Bernd Stange did was infuse the squad with youth. Talented youngsters like midfielders Harris Harun and Safuwan Baharudin can score but they aren’t up to stud level yet like striker Khairul Amri.
What’s ironic is that while expectations are low, what will keep Sundram on board is the Lions making at the very least, the semi-finals.
This team has potential. They are at a stage where defending champion Thailand was during the 2014 Suzuki Cup, a young team that came up in 2012 where they soaked the requisite experience then blew everyone away in the next staging of Southeast Asia’s premier football competition.
All that is potential. In the meantime, Sundram has them playing a defensive brand of football where they shift from a very compact 4-4-2 to a 4-4-1-1 shape then to a 4-2-3-1 on a lightning quick counter. Yet even on the attack, these Lions will not commit too many players. In the event the attack is repelled, one of their defensive rules is for every single player to get back on defense.
Sundram wants his wards to move up and downfield as a unit. If they can figure this out come kick-off, they’ll be very good.
One reason for their compactness and more defensive brand is their relative age and the mileage in the legs of players like Daniel Bennett who has owned that central position for quite a while now, and Juma’at Jantan on defense and their youngsters.
I’ll say this though… when expectations are low for the Lions, they play well. Very well. And once they get into the finals, they are 4-0.
Singapore could be the sleeper of this tournament.
Projected Singapore Starting XI
Hassan Sunny (GK)
Faritz Hameed Baihakki Khaizan Daniel Bennett Juma’at Jantan
Harris Harun Izzdin Shafiq
Hafiz Nor Safuwan Baharudin Faris Ramli