Suzuki Cup: Raddy set for a funny, old feeling

Suzuki Cup: Raddy set for a funny, old feeling
International football friendly match between Singapore and Laos at Yishun Stadium on 13 Nov 2014.

The old National Stadium at Kallang was where he masterminded so many famous football victories for Singapore.

A capacity crowd of more than 50,000 saw the Lions lift the Tiger Cup in 2005 after beating Indonesia 2-1 on the night and 5-2 on aggregate.

Two years later, Radojko Avramovic's Lions posted a hard-fought 2-1 win over Thailand in the first leg of the final at the same venue, and went on to retain their crown after a 1-1 draw in Bangkok.

While Singapore's new National Stadium at the Sports Hub will be unrecognisable to the Serb, he admits he will be emotional when he steps out with Myanmar for their Suzuki Cup encounter with the Lions on Nov 26.

"Sure it will be a funny feeling, coming back to Singapore but playing as the away team," he told The New Paper.

"I would really like Singapore to play well, but once we are in competition, we are professional, and I don't want to lose."

Avramovic, 64, held the reins of the Lions for almost 10 years - the longest- tenured coach in the Lions' history.

He is also their most successful coach, winning three ASEAN crowns (2004, 2007, 2012) and guiding the Lions into the third round of World Cup qualifying on two occasions.

He left the Singapore post at the end of 2012, weeks after guiding the team to a record fourth ASEAN triumph (the 1998 win was under Barry Whitbread).

He took over Myanmar in February and, as fate would have it, was drawn with his former team in Group B of the 2014 Suzuki Cup, which Singapore will co-host with Vietnam.

There is a sense of deja vu in all of this - Avramovic is in the midst of revamping the Myanmar team, just like he did when he first stepped into the Singapore post in 2003.

He chuckled and said: "It looks like that is my job.

"It's always that change of generation... to build teams to compete in the next competition and the following ones.

"It has been a challenge for me to select players in a short period, but I have some interesting players and you will see a mix of young and experienced Myanmar players.

"Some other teams could keep up to 15 of the players that played at the last Suzuki Cup (Singapore have 10), but for us, it is just six.

"So yes... we need time."

Already, the mix of Avramovic's famed detailed preparations and the rise of Myanmar's fast, talented and hardworking young footballers have produced their first piece of silverware, when Myanmar claimed the Peace Cup in September after wins over Palestine and the Philippines.

UNBEATEN STREAK

The White Angels followed that up by topping the Suzuki Cup qualifiers in Laos last month, extending their unbeaten streak to six matches.

Also, Myanmar's Under-19s are one of just four Asian teams, and the only one from South-east Asia, to qualify for next year's Under- 20 World Cup finals.

Two players from that team - 18-year-old attacking midfielder Nyein Chan Aung and 17-year-old centre forward Than Paing - are in Avramovic's Suzuki Cup squad.

Myanmar will meet Singapore on Nov 26 and their fans have snapped up all their allocated tickets for the three group games already.

They have made it out of the opening group stage just once, in 2004, when they lost in the semi-finals to Avramovic's Singapore, who would go on to win the competition.

In a bid to boost his team's chances of finishing in the top two in Group B and advancing to the semi-finals, the wily coach has left nothing to chance. He arranged for Myanmar to embark on a training tour of Qatar recently that included three friendlies against club sides.

Avramovic said: "This is the first time we have had really good facilities and training conditions for preparations. The FA is trying to provide the team with such facilities, and good preparation is the only way to progress."

With the delicate nature of the new pitch at the 55,000-capacity National Stadium, hosts Singapore will play their three group games there while the rest will do battle on the artificial turf at Jalan Besar Stadium.

Addressing the issue, Avramovic said: "We have been training on grass and we will have to adapt to the artificial pitch at Jalan Besar. I may know the pitch well but the ones playing are my players, not me.

"Recently Myanmar have not done well in the Suzuki Cup, but I don't want to speculate on how far we can go.

"We are in the group of the defending champions (Singapore) and former champions (Thailand and Malaysia). We should be motivated to compete with these teams."

This article was first published on November 17, 2014.
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