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Shrewd Raddy plays cards right in dream opener for Singapore in AFF Suzuki Cup

Shrewd Raddy plays cards right in dream opener for Singapore in AFF Suzuki Cup

The shrewd Serbian tactician proved that he was still capable of a trick or two in Singapore's 3-0 thrashing of Malaysia in their AFF Suzuki Cup opener.

By Kenneth Tan

Perhaps no one in Asean football - not even the most ardent of Singapore fans - believed we could do this.

A hard-fought draw? Maybe. Edging the contest by a goal? Slightly optimistic.

A three-goal thrashing with a clean sheet? Not in our wildest dreams.

After all, the Tigers have been the toast of the region in the past two years while our Lions have been tame and futile in our endeavors - dumped out of the last tournament prematurely, we then ended our Asian Cup campaign with a big fat zero in our account and had tallied just three wins in all competitions in this calendar year before Sunday night's victory.

But coach Raddy Avramovic is a quietly confident man, and maybe he sensed a chance.

Malaysia had been poor in their warm-up games, especially with the successive home draws against Hong Kong and Bangladesh. They also had the pressure of being tagged as 'defending champions'. Additionally, the majority of our squad have experience playing against Malaysian sides and we also had a rejuvenated Khairul Amri.

In any case, Raddy played his cards absolutely right in the battle of minds with Malaysia coach Datuk Rajagopal.

Firstly, starting Amri in place of Aleksandar Duric was a masterstroke as the 27-year-old was eager to prove himself in the competition which brought fame to him five years ago.

He might not possess the ability to hold up play like the latter, but his desire to link up with his fellow attackers and his persistent running at defenders proved a handful for the Tigers backline.

Secondly, Raddy resisted any calls to drop Daniel Bennett from the starting lineup despite an imminent long 90 minutes with speedy Malaysian left winger S Kunalan.

Over the past couple of years, the 34-year-old may have lost a yard or so despite being a solid defender. As such, seeing him line up at right back against an attacker famed for his electric pace made me doubt his ability to stop Kunalan even more.

But boy did he prove me wrong. Apart from some nervy head-to-head encounters early in the first half, Bennett kept the 26-year-old Selangor attacker quiet with some back-to-basics defending.

The first 30 minutes were not too fantastic for Singapore, with the hosts being the slightly more threatening side.

However, Raddy did not panic with his philosophy of 'simplicity breeds efficiency'; he urged his Lions to stay compact, play simple football and wait for opportunities to hit on the break.

That worked to a treat as they reaped the rewards twice in five minutes later.

First, a superb ball from deep by Shaiful Esah was brought down by Shahril Ishak inside the box before the LionsXII captain finished with aplomb past Khairul Fahmi.

Next, a routine freekick from outside the Malaysian box saw Shahdan Sulaiman swing in a peach of a ball to force an uncharacteristic mistake from Fahmi, and Shahril stole in to nod home into a gaping net.

With the Lions going into the break two goals to the good, there was the lure of parking the bus to ensure the result.

However, Raddy did not do that as he instead deployed a keep-ball strategy, with simple little passes in midfield to frustrate the Malaysian midfield duo of Amer Rohidan and Safiq Rahim.

S.League Young Player of the Year Wan Zack Haikal then came on for the opponents; with his trickery down the right and Kunalan's pace down the left, it could have been a nightmare for the Lions but the Singapore back-four did well to hold the fort.

Perhaps sensing Shahril was tiring, Raddy soon brought on Aleksandar Duric to disrupt the Tigers backline.

It proved to be the right substitution at the right time.

Malaysia was tiring and leaving holes at the back from their chasing of the game and that resulted in Mahalli Jasuli standing off Shahdan as the latter swung over a perfect ball into the six-yard box for a lurking Duric.

The totally unmarked 42-year-old could not believe his luck as he nodded the ball firmly past Fahmi to make it 3-0 within two minutes of him coming on.

It was game over from then on, as the Lions rode out the final 15 minutes to emerge satisfied and deserved winners.

There were doubts cast over Raddy before the tournament, be it due to the recent failures in friendlies or his commitment to the cause, with recent media reports of him leaving the post after the Suzuki Cup.

We still do not know whether he will stay. But the 62-year-old has proved in this game that his mind is fully focused on bringing glory back for the local faithful, and that he still has a trick or two up his sleeve.

And he fully deserves all the credit and accolades for this result.