Singapore coach V Sundramoorthy believes his team has a good chance of making it to the finals of AFC Asian Cup 2019 after they held higher-ranked Bahrain to seal a point in the opening match of their qualifying campaign.
The Lions, ranked 163, were under quite a lot of pressure as they headed to Riffa for their away leg against Bahrain, having lost all their previous encounters to the 127th-ranked Middle Eastern nation. Also, the onus was on Sundram to deliver as the 51-year-old tactician was entrusted with the job of leading the side for two more years by the Football Association of Singapore even after poor results with the senior team.
Sundram's men though came up with a brilliant defensive display on Wednesday morning making sure they collected a crucial point before they face first-leg battles against Chinese Taipei and Turkmenistan (13 June and 5 September, respectively). The coach, who was not reluctant to throw a few surprises in his team's 2-1 defeat to Afghanistan last week, once again got his tactics right as he paired 19-year-old Irfan Fandi with veteran Daniel Bennett at the back.
Tampines Rovers midfielder Yasir Hanapi reportedly earned a lot of praise for his show in Riffa along with captain Hariss Harun and the duo were ably supported by wingers Safuwan Baharudin and Juma'at Jantan. Striker Khairul Amri suffered a groin injury as early as in the 10th minute but his replacement Khairul Nizam kept troubling the opposition backline.
It was a vastly improved performance from the Lions, considering their disastrous run at last year's AFF Suzuki Cup. Sundram's men not only parked the bus but also were keen to making good use of counter-attacking opportunities. The former international, who is determined to achieve success with the national team on his extended spell, believes the result against Bahrain will boost Singapore football.
"This result is a boost for Singapore football and it shows our players can compete at this level if they stay focused and disciplined. We had a good performance against Afghanistan too, but lost 2-1. This time, they really got stuck in and got the job done," Sundram said, as quoted by The New Paper.
"Hopefully, this is the start of a successful new chapter. I have been given a two-year extension, I want to make the most of it, win games and achieve success with the national team.
"It is important to start the campaign on the right foot and now we have every chance to go on and qualify for the Asian Cup. "I believe it's about us now, going out there and trying to make it happen.
"Obviously, playing at home against Taiwan and Turkmenistan, we have to try to go out there and get maximum points. We will work hard and make sure we do our job well."