'I really fear for this team' - Former Singapore international R. Sasikumar on the Lions' chances at the 2012 AFF Suzuki Cup

In the second part of an exclusive two-part interview, the former Singapore international speaks about his hopes for the Lions in the upcoming AFF Suzuki Cup
By Kenneth Tan

Since his 'Shoulder of God' goal in 1998 that brought the nation their first-ever international trophy, the Lions have participated in six subsequent editions of the Asean Football Championship - a journey that can only be described as topsy-turvy with mixed results.

With Barry Whitbread's departure, Vincent Subramaniam was brought in but he failed to inspire Singapore to a similar finish, only managing a group-stage exit in Thailand for the 2000 edition.

The Singaporean soon bit the bullet with Jan Poulsen his replacement. However the Dane's three-year reign as Singapore coach was one that ended in tears, with the 2002 edition being comparatively disastrous after the infamous 4-0 drubbing by arch-rivals Malaysia at the old National Stadium.

The team once again failed to make it past the group stages on home soil, and Vincent duly made way for a new coach the following year.

Radojko 'Raddy' Avramovic was brought in by the Football Association of Singapore  and the Serbian brought almost instant success for the nation.

The last couple of years has not been smooth-sailing for the Lions with only two wins in 10 games, both coming against minnows Hong Kong and India, as they fell to an all-time low of 163 in the FIFA world rankings.

For a man who always wore his heart on his sleeve with his six years in the national team, R. Sasikumar expresses his dismay at how the railings have come off for his beloved Lions.

"It's sad for someone like me who's always very proud to be Singaporean and wear the national jersey," he told Goal.com Singapore.

"The performances have been mediocre, the players aren't playing with enough desire and it's hard to keep quiet about this. I think the players are mature enough. They know their failings and it's important now that we're in this rebuilding stage."

The final squad for the 2012 Suzuki Cup campaign has not been announced but it is likely to be largely made up players from the LionsXII squad who have been playing in Malaysian competitions this year.

Despite the LionsXII good showing in the Malaysian Super League and Malaysia Cup, Sasikumar, is keeping his fingers crossed on the Lions' hopes for the upcoming AFF Suzuki Cup.

"I really fear for this team," he said with concern.

"Everyone [in the region] would have done their homework. We don't have a big strong squad with the players we have.

"We can't be disillusioned by the LionsXII side. Yes, they finished second in the Malaysian Super League and 80% of the team are national team players, but that's a totally different level from the Asean level.

"Those who have performed for the team may not necessarily shine on the national level. The international level's a different kettle of fish altogether.

"Now we're even struggling against teams like Philippines. They have naturalised players but so do we, at our time we used to hammer them five to six goals."

For him, the key to success in this tournament would be to infuse more brawn than brain, adding: "To have an opportunity to make the next stage, the approach must be different. We must be mentally and physically fit. Since we're short on the talent front, we have to outrun the other teams."

"Shahril [Ishak] is good, but he's carrying a lot of load upfront. The rest need to pitch in as well. If we take  away [Aleksandar] Duric, where are the goals going to come from? This will be a problem when we need goals in the later stages.

"In midfield we have Hariss [Harun] who's very consistent although Mustafic [Fahrudin] is aging. At the back the central defence looks good with young Safuwan [Baharudin] and if Bai [Baihakki Khaizan] stays on form.

"It's on the flanks where we look slightly exposed as we don't have real solid full backs."

Sasikumar also paid tribute to the only current player he has played alongside before and hopes to be proven wrong in his judgement of Singapore's chances.

"Aleks was my teammate at Home United for half a season in 2001 and me and the rest from the era have already retired but he's still going!

"I don't see us winning this. I might be wrong and I hope to be proven wrong. I really hope we can go all the way but it's quite different this time round. With some luck on our side, we can get to the semi-finals and that will be a great achievement for this team."

The Managing Director of Red Card is currently on a work assignment in New York but like every Singaporean, he will be keeping a close eye on the Lions' fortunes.

"I travel around quite a bit, thus I can't watch most games. I try to watch whenever I'm in town," he said.

"I'll be travelling during the Suzuki Cup period but I will definitely follow the team via the Internet.

"All the best for the team!" 

The 2012 AFF Suzuki Cup kicks-off on Saturday November 24, with Singapore beginning their campaign against hosts Malaysia the following day.