By Kenneth Tan
The clock is ticking down – we are just a matter of hours away from Singapore’s first fixture at the AFF Suzuki Cup.
It will be a baptism of fire come a quarter before nine, when our Singapore boys run onto the Bukit Jalil field as they seek to topple arch-rivals Malaysia.
Getting a decent result is certainly necessary, not only for the obvious sake of collecting enough points to make the next stage, but also to start the tournament on a good note. Starting it with a bang, with a performance and result to match, will also make the region stand up and notice.
Former Singapore defender S. Subramani certainly knows that fact from his 11 years with the national team, during which he played in five of these tournaments and won three of them.
From the 2-0 win over Malaysia in 1998, to subsequent draws against Vietnam in both 2004 and 2007, those results provided a solid base for the Lions to build on in their winning campaigns.
While there is proof in recent tournaments that a team can overturn an early loss to get back on the path to success, Singapore should not be letting their guard down, especially with previous bad experiences still capable of coming back to haunt them.
The infamous 4-0 drubbing by our Malaysian counterparts set the tone for an early exit in 2002, while most of the current crop will need no elaboration about the last-gasp leveller by Phillipines’ Chris Greatwich which eventually proved costly in 2010.
With that in mind, 'Mani' is urging the 22 boys to go out there and give maximum effort on Sunday.
“The last tournament was indeed disappointing,” he told Goal.com Singapore.
"However, I am sure they are looking forward to this tournament and I really hope they will do well. We do have a strong squad this time but it is important how we start the tournament.
"It [getting a result] depends on their desire to win and their ability to play together as a team.”
According to the 40-year-old, other teams should not be underestimated as well.
“It’s not only about Malaysia; we also have to be wary about the rest of the teams like Myanmar and the Philippines,” he asserted.
Despite already retired from the scene, Subramani still holds fond memories about his experience at the biennial tournament, particularly in 1998 and 2004 - where he played in every minute of both triumphs - before retiring from the national scene following the 2007 triumph.
The current Courts Young Lions assistant coach took the chance to pay tribute to the tacticians which brought the Lions success in previous tournaments.
“I think we have to give credit to those coaches – I made my international debut under Douglas Moore in 1996, but it was Barry Whitbread [who came in thereafter] who made me a ‘first-eleven’ player. He was very hardworking and demanded a team unity amongst us," Mani recalled.
"For Raddy, he brought in a different approach and gave us a different style of play. Other than his vast experience of Asian-level football knowledge, he brought in a lot of young blood into the team like Shahril [Shahril Ishak], Bai [Baihakki Khaizan], and Ridhuan [Muhd Ridhuan]; all these boys were eager to contribute to the national cause, and also good foreign talents like Daniel [Daniel Bennett] and Agu [Agu Casmir] who brought quality to the team."
The run-in to this tournament seems eerily similar to his first two triumphs in 1998 and 2004, where the team also did not enjoy the best of results in warm-up games prior to the tournament, and Subramani hopes that that fact will turn out to be a blessing in disguise once again for the Lions.
With a considerable number of surviving members from the 2007 triumph, the no-nonsense defender has backed the current cohort to do well in this year’s tournament.
“I [have] played with quite a few of the current team – Bai, Shahril, Daniel to name a few," he explained.
"Shahril [in particular] has progressed fast and is now an important player for the country. Of course as the captain, he has to step up in his game.
"Hopefully it (the poor results) will motivate the players, I hope they bring glory back for the fans as it can only be good for Singapore football.”
As for how he will be catching the Lions’ matches, he replied: “I will be watching closely on TV. If they reach the semis, I will definitely go down to Jalan Besar Stadium to encourage the team!”