National Team - Lions ● Nov 12, 2018

Preview: Lions prepared for Azkals test, says Fandi


The Lions take on Philippines in their second ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup 2018 Group B match tomorrow night, 13 November, at the Pana-ad Park Stadium, Bacolod. Kick-off is at 8pm, Singapore time.


Background Hariss Harun’s winner against Indonesia last Friday means that Fandi Ahmad’s charges head into their second Suzuki Cup match with the chance to top the group, with Thailand not playing on the second match-day.


The 1-0 win was regarded in some quarters as an upset and Singapore will carry the tag of underdogs again here, having travelled ten hours to Bacolod via Manila the day after the first game. In contrast, the Azkals will be playing their first game of the tournament and in terms of FIFA ranking, they are 49 places ahead of the visitors at 116th.


These were salient points raised by Fandi at the pre-match press conference earlier this afternoon at Seda Capitol Central Hotel, but he also asserted that the Lions are hunting all three points.


“During training yesterday, we saw that some of them (our players) are still tired because of the travel but today I saw that they are better, hopefully they had a good rest,” he said.


“We are always thinking positively… They are fresh(er), yes but we have to go at them because if we are playing away and you sit (back) too long, you (will) get punished.


“We will go there and we will chase every ball (because) we want to win.”


Fandi also expressed his respect for counterpart Sven-Goran Eriksson, the former England manager who took charge of the Philippines in end October. The 70-year-old Swede, who has coached in China’s top flight, is foraying into this region for the first time and Fandi pointed out that could be a slight disadvantage.


“It’s an honour for me to compete against him, he’s a world-class coach who just came to Southeast Asia and is trying to build a team,” he said. “We know the region better than him, maybe he might not have had enough time to prepare his players but (then again) I am sure his assistant will advise him.


“Tactically, I think he knows what to do even though he doesn’t (really) know the (Philippines) players but for us, we are prepared for any onslaught.”


In the Indonesia match, high pressing was key to shutting out the opponents but Fandi is aware that the hosts present a different kind of threat, noting their preference to keep possession, their physicality and the “quality” players in their ranks.


But the Singapore legend is confident that as long as the team replicates their efforts from the first game, they will do well.


“In our last game, I thought we were very solid individually and as a team, we were fantastic because everyone wanted to win every tackle, battle and challenge,” Fandi said.


“We might change our way of playing and playing at a different venue sometimes changes the mood of players as well, but I know mentally we are stronger now than before and more disciplined in terms of (sticking to a) strategy.


“Philippines is a good team now… but in football, anything can happen. We are not afraid to play because we have nothing to lose. This is how we are going to approach the game tomorrow.”

His opposite number was keen not to underestimate the Lions despite the apparent gulf in quality on paper, having been “impressed” by what he saw on Friday.


“I am pleased to be here and am looking forward to this Suzuki Cup,” Eriksson said. “I know that we have a good team… I am not worried but we should show a lot of respect to Singapore because they played a very good game, they beat Indonesia and they deserved to win.


“They are playing direct, good football and we have to play very well to win the game.”


The former Ivory Coast and Mexico manager also dismissed concerns that he would struggle to adjust to his new surroundings, noting: “I lived in Thailand (during my time as technical director of BEC Tero Sansana)…football is more or less the same all over the world. Philippines are an Asian team… but many of these players have (had their footballing) education in Europe when they are young. I am also working with Chris (Greatwich, assistant coach) and Scott (Cooper, senior football adviser) and they know everything about football in this part of the world.”

Team News Shakir Hamzah had to come off late on in the Indonesia match but is expected to be fit, with no other injury concerns for Singapore.


Buriram United striker Javier Patino withdrew from the Azkals’ training camp and is unavailable for selection, with Eriksson confirming an otherwise full-strength side. Europe-based Daisuke Sato (Romania) and Neil Etheridge (England) arrive today to link up with the team, though a final 23-man squad is yet to be announced as at the time of writing. (UPDATE: View the 23-man final Azkals team here)


Philippines’ form The Azkals have won four and lost one of their seven internationals this year, starting 2018 with a five-match unbeaten streak. One of those wins came against Tajikistan at home, which saw them qualify for the AFC Asian Cup for the first time ever. Last month, they lost to the same opponents in the Bangabandhu Gold Cup before holding Oman 1-1 in a friendly.


Past meetings The last meeting between these two countries came in the 2016 Suzuki Cup, where Singapore were held to a 0-0 away draw. The Philippines have not beaten Singapore in any of their six tournament meetings, losing twice. They did win two friendlies in 2012 and the last four head to head encounters have seen only two goals scored.


Keep an eye out for… Faris Ramli had the Indonesians on the ropes with his incisive runs and skilful dribbling and was unfortunate not to score. Fandi appears to have found the solution to his number ten conundrum in the fleet-footed attacker and the 26-year-old will be a potent threat as he supports Ikhsan Fandi.


Returning to the national team fold after two years, Stephan Schröck will pull the strings for the Azkals in midfield and is a force to be reckoned with despite being 32 years of age. The Ceres-Negros man has proven experience in the German top flight and will have to be shackled.


What else they said… Faris believes the team has adopted a more offensive approach under Fandi, noting that “the best form of defence is attack”.


“Everyone ranks him (Fandi) highly and I feel he has done really well in terms of shaping the national team,” he added. “There is a good mix of youngsters and experienced players; I feel everyone is motivated under him and will fight for the country.”


Azkals captain Phil Younghusband is excited about both the start of their Suzuki Cup campaign and having Eriksson in charge, which he described as “great” for Philippines’ football. The 31-year-old also acknowledged that expectations will be raised.


“Naturally when you bring in someone of Sven’s experience and coaching calibre… people will expect results straight away but Sven has only been with the team for a month,” he said. “Things take time… hopefully we can live up to those expectations and get those results that everyone has been craving.”


With a capacity of 20,000, Fandi hopes the players will relish playing in front of a fervent home crowd, saying: “We hope the players are inspired because it’s good to have many people watching; you try to play and do what you can and try to upset them and get a good result.”


Follow the game oktoSports will broadcast the game LIVE, which will also be shown online at Toggle.