The LionsXII coach believes his team have benefited from battling tough opponents and hailed his players' spirit after they sealed a first-ever league title in their second season
The LionsXII won their first major trophy since re-entering Malaysian football competitions in 2012 after they lifted the Malaysian Super League (MSL) trophy on Tuesday night at the Jalan Besar Stadium, following their 4-0 win over Felda United.
The last time a Singapore side were crowned Malaysian league champions was back in 1994 when the Dream Team did the Double, winning the league and the cup in the same year.
This is the fifth time a Singapore side has won the crown in the Malaysian top-tier league, with the other three titles coming in 1979, 1981 and 1985, when it was still known as the Malaysian Semi-Pro League.
It was little wonder then that LionsXII coach V. Sundramoorthy wore a huge smile on his face as he made his entrance for the post-match press conference, where he was greeted with applause from the local media.
The former Singapore international was delighted at winning the MSL after finishing as runners-up last year in their debut campaign, and believes the decision to set up the LionsXII was a right one.
“Looking at today, after 19 long years, we won the trophy [again],” Sundram proclaimed.
“We love the moments when we play in front of big crowds and [also] the rivalry between the Malaysian states and us.
"I feel that it is a good move for us to [return to the MSL and] play against tough opponents and pit our skills against them.”
While his team found it hard to find the back of the net in a goal-less first half as they spurned a few opportunities, Sundram revealed that he was not too worried due to his belief in his charges' ability.
“It is a title game and definitely the boys were anxious and the nerves get to them but once they settled down and scored the first goal, everything fell into place," he pointed out.
“In the first half, we had our chances and an offside goal, [we put] crosses into the box and we were dangerous. It was important for them to keep their nerves and calm and make some adjustment in their play [in the second half].
“Goals can be scored within seconds; we had 45 more minutes to play and [I believed that] the goal would come and it came.”
But the success did not come without trials and tribulations as the team went through several testing periods, some of which occurred even before the start of the season.
“My boys tried their best from the start of the season till the end of it and there were lots of ups and downs, challenges but they pulled through and here they are: winning the title in front of the home fans and the Prime Minister [Lee Hsien Loong]," Sundram proudly beamed.
“Shahril [Ishak] and Baihakki [Khaizan] were looking for transfers [to Thailand in January], but we managed to keep them together as we wanted to build a team around them.
“It was a big challenge with the press reporting about their transfers and we went through a lot to be where we are today.”
The LionsXII will play their final match against FA Cup champions Kelantan FA on July 6 at the Sultan Mohamed IV Stadium in Kota Bharu, before taking a break as the challenge of winning the Malaysia Cup looms next.