SINGAPORE — V Sundramoorthy’s one-year stint as caretaker manager of the national football team last May barely had time to kick off before the Lions’ disappointing showing at the 2016 Asean Football Federation Suzuki Cup. The four-time champions were eliminated from the group stage after posting zero wins, one draw (0-0) against the Philippines, and two losses to Thailand (1-0) and Indonesia (2-1).
With a new two-year contract extension from the Football Association of Singapore (FAS), Sundram will now have the opportunity to make amends.
Success for the former Singapore International will hinge on the team’s performances at next year’s Suzuki Cup and the Asian Football Confederation Asian Cup in 2019, where Singapore are aiming for a finals berth in the United Arab Emirates.
The 51-year-old’s first assignment will come this week as the Lions face world No 156 Afghanistan in Doha on Thursday (March 23). The match is part of their preparations for their first Group E game away to Bahrain (127) in the final round of the Asian Cup qualifiers on March 28. Singapore — the lowest ranked in the group at world No 163 — will host Taiwan (159) and Turkmenistan (144) in June and September respectively.
“I am (now) given (more) time to ... work with them (the team),” said Sundram in an interview on Monday (March 20) at Changi Airport, ahead of the team’s departure to Doha.
“It’s a good direction and we need to focus on the upcoming Asian Cup (qualifiers). For the Asian Cup, you can see we are the underdogs, (but) we will try to do our best to qualify. As for the Suzuki Cup, we have every chance to go out there and do well.”
The FAS were criticised last year for handing Sundram only a one-year caretaker role, but the Lions tactician brushed off suggestions that the short-term nature of his previous deal had influenced his tactics or put him under more pressure to get results.
“For me, it (was just) about making the best use of what we had,” he said. “We try to play to the strengths of the team, and now with the extension, we can look forward to a better showing.”
Looking ahead to football’s long-term development, Sundram is also aiming to blood more young players into the senior set-up.
These could include the likes of Home United midfielder Adam Swandi, defender Shahrin Saberin of Garena Young Lions, and Hougang United striker Iqbal Hussain.
The 23-man squad for the coming two matches has an average age of 27, with five players aged over 30.
Sundram added: “We will look at players who are performing better, who are younger, stronger and who can help the national team — that’s important. (But even) if you are young, you must be good enough ... I am going to bring in younger players who have the potential to be future national stars and long-term players.”
For now, Sundram’s biggest task is to get a good result against Bahrain, who beat them 3-1 in a friendly last September. The Lions will be aiming to halt a string of six consecutive defeats against the hosts, though Sundram appeared to be quietly optimistic.
“They have good players, (but) I believe we were unlucky that time by (conceding) three penalties; the second one was really soft, but sometimes this happens in football,” he said.
“We have to pick ourselves up and try to do something. For me, as long as we don’t get defeated, I think it will be a good start.”