|By Kenneth Tan
It is the year-end festive period but for one man in Singapore, there is no rest as his side prepares for another Malaysian adventure in just two weeks' time.
After a stellar season which saw them finish second in the Malaysian Super League and achieve a valiant semi-final berth in the Malaysia Cup, LionsXII coach Sundram has a mammoth task ahead of him this year.
With a new-look side comprising mostly of Under-23 players, he will have to find a way to help them survive the harsh environment of Malaysia football before they head off for the SEA Games at the end of the year.
The LionsXII resumed training days ago and has already played two friendlies - a thrashing against SAFFC before being held to a 1-1 draw against Home United at the Jalan Besar Stadium last night.
With most of the national players still enjoying their extended leave from their victorious AFF Suzuki Cup campaign, new faces like Faritz Hameed, Syafiq Zainal, Zulfahmi Arifin, Izzdin Shafiq, Aqhari Abdullah, Ali Hudzaifi, Faris Azienuddin and Gabriel Quak all started last night.
Syafiq in particular impressed with a good shift upfront as he capitalized on a defensive slip-up to curl home a superb effort, while Quak looked dangerous in the attacking third.
Although his side was unable to hold on for a win thanks to a deflected Home equalizer in the second half, Sundram was happy with the workout his side received.
"That's why I chose to face Home and also SAFFC: they're the two best teams in the country. It's good to see the boys competing against a more experienced side," he explained.
The 47-year-old also took the opportunity to give surprise appearances to Irwan Shah and Fazrul Nawaz, as they 'did not play much' during the Suzuki Cup.
With the rest of the national players due to return to training on Monday, Sundram hopes they can recover from their fatigue and gel with the rest of the team.
"Now it's only about recovery for them. They are tired after a long season and need a proper frame of time to refresh and start their engines again," the 'Dazzler' said.
"When they slot in, it's more about working as a unit. As long as we put in teamwork, everyone know and do their own roles, we should get back to our best."
And Sundram expects the boys who have international exposure to help their inexperienced teammates to cope with the daunting Malaysian atmospheres next season.
"We have players who have experience [in Malaysian League and national level] [and] it plays a key part," Sundram pointed out.
"Obviously it'll be tough next year with only five over-aged players as compared to the 15 we had last year, but it's a challenge.
"During home games, I expect the boys to step up but for away games, they will need time to adjust to the atmospheres. Hopefully players like Fazrul, Baihakki and Safuwan who have the know-how can help them along."
The LionsXII squad will travel to Kuantan to face Pahang FA on January 3 before kicking off their MSL season against ATM FA six days later.