Suzuki Cup: Beat the Thais

Suzuki Cup: Beat the Thais

Singapore have won ASEAN football's most prestigious prize a record four times.

And the Republic are co-hosts of this year's competition, along with Vietnam.

They enter this year's ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup as champions, and open their Group B campaign at the new National Stadium at the Singapore Sports Hub against Thailand on Sunday.

Many fear the worst for Bernd Stange's Lions.

The team have hardly been convincing this year and, if the Thai Under-23 team that reached the Asian Games semi-finals just two months ago are the yardstick, then pundits believe Singapore will be up against it this Sunday, even on home soil.

Stange, though, is unfazed.

"The goal is to win the Cup at home... as coach, I'm always optimistic (we can beat Thailand)," the German told The New Paper ahead of tonight's friendly against Cambodia at Yishun Stadium.

"Thailand may be very strong traditionally and also based on recent results... but that means nothing for us because we have home advantage.

NOT AFRAID

"We are not afraid, we are very confident."

The 66-year-old agrees that three-time winners Thailand are the favourites, but he is confident because he has "a balanced squad" with "quality players".

"We have a very balanced team - one-third of our squad are extremely young, one-third are of the best football age from 23 to 28, and one-third are very experienced like Hassan (Sunny), Baihakki (Khaizan), Ismadi (Mukhtar), Shaiful (Esah), Shahril (Ishak), Fazrul (Nawaz) and (Khairul) Amri."

Add to this the fact that Stange has compiled a "big file" of information about the formidable Thai side, the contents of which he refused to reveal, and it appears that his Lions are ready for battle.

He said: "We sent coaches to scout our opponents and (goalkeeping coach Lee) Bee Seng was there when China beat Thailand 3-0 in a friendly last month.

"We know their strengths and weaknesses but it would be stupid for me to share this information in public."

However, Stange was candid about how his team could improve.

He said: "We tend to slow down in the last 20 to 30 minutes... we have to find our rhythm.

"We have to play our style of football, press for the first 15 minutes and stretch our powers for the full 90 minutes."

After Thailand, the Lions will take on a Myanmar side coached by Radojko Avramovic, who guided the Singapore national team to so much success previously, including three ASEAN crowns.

The final group game will be against arch-rivals Malaysia.

GLIMPSE

The opening game often sets the tone for the rest of the tournament and Singapore midfield star Hariss Harun, who has played against many of the young and talented Thai players who will feature on Sunday, gave a glimpse of what can be expected of them.

Said the 23-year-old: "They are all technically gifted players who are both comfortable and patient with the ball, looking for the right opening to go for the kill.

"We may have been too eager when we lost to them at last year's SEA Games semi-final, so we must also be patient and play our cards right."

With former star striker Kiatisuk Senamuang at the helm, the Thais made waves at this year's Asian Games with their brand of fast, attacking football.

In six previous meetings with the Lions at the Suzuki Cup, they have scored one goal per match.

That hasn't stopped Singapore from breaking Thai hearts, pipping them in the finals of the 2007 and 2012 ASEAN championship.

And Hariss reckons this psychological advantage could be a factor, although he would love for his team to keep a rare clean sheet against the Thais.

"Some teams don't like to play us and will complain after losing to us that we 'park the bus'," he said.

"But that suits us just fine. Whether it's Thailand, Myanmar or Malaysia, we have to put up a big team effort to be tight defensively.

"It was a strong defensive combination that led us to victory in 2012, and we have to do well defensively if we want to build another championship team."

Thailand have averaged a goal a game in six previous meetings with Singapore at the Suzuki Cup.

Singapore have beaten Thailand twice in the Suzuki Cup final - in 2007 and 2012

Singapore and Thailand have won the Suzuki Cup the most number of times - the Republic a record four times and Thailand thrice.

THAILAND'S DANGERMAN

No more Datsakorn Thonglao. Thailand's midfield mastermind this time will be Charyl Chappuis, who was born to a Swiss father and Thai mother. Chappuis (above, right), who inherited Datsakorn's No. 7 shirt, will not be an unfamiliar face having played for Thailand Under-23 against Singapore U-23 in last year's South-east Asia Games semi-finals which the Young Lions lost. The tireless ball-winner with an eye for defence-splitting passes was part of the Switzerland Under-17 team that won the 2009 U-17 World Cup. He featured in all seven matches at the tournament. In the Asian Games just two months ago, the 1.77m midfielder also played a key role as the War Elephants marched into the semi-finals. Just last week, he starred again as Thailand beat the Philippines 3-0 in a friendly. The Lions will do well to keep him on a tight leash.


This article was first published on November 17, 2014.
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