Can the Lions really ‘roar’ in Asean Suzuki Cup?

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TO roar or not to roar: The footballing fate of the Lions will be decided from this week when the Suzuki Cup tournament kicks off, starting November 9.

Going on form and performance, the Lions may not stand a ghost of a chance to be pitted in a mercenary group with defending champions Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines and Timor Leste.

But the Lions, according to football analysts, are unlikely to throw the proverbial white flag although they’re cast as underdogs and can show some bite under new coach Fandi Ahmad.

Mind you, the Lions are four-time ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup champions. But a combination of sorry form and poor luck has failed to move past the group stages in the last two editions of the tournament.

The biggest test comes from the first of two home fixtures at the National Stadium in this year’s campaign, beginning with Indonesia on Nov 9 and Timor-Leste on Nov 21.

Award-winning former Singapore coach Jita Singh prefers optimism. But he cautions that the opening home fixture with Indonesia as the “game which could decide Singapore’s fortunes”.

“The first game will definitely be the biggest one; if you win, you get lots of confidence,” says the SNOC 1980 ‘Coach of the Year’. “If Singapore can get the better of Indonesia, the chances to qualify from the group will be high.”

“In my opinion, based on current form, it’s Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia; I just think they are too strong for the other nations right now.”

Singapore have not won a competitive fixture since a 2-1 victory over Cambodia three years ago, sinking to a lowly 165th in the FIFA world rankings (as of Oct 25). The Lions first won the tournament in 1998, when it was known as the Tiger Cup. It won again in 2004, 2007 and 2012.

Die-hard Lions fan Richard Leow from Bukit Batok says it may be an “ironical blessing” that the Lions have been written off by the public before the first ball is kicked in the competition.

“Nobody gave us a chance before the tournament,” he said. “It’s better that people write you off; at the end of the day, you are motivated to go out and prove people wrong.”

“But it’s the Suzuki Cup and anything can happen. I wouldn’t be surprised if Singapore made it to the last four – but I certainly wouldn’t bet on it.”

The Thais, hailed as the ‘Brazil of Asean’, have won the regional tournament a total of five times and are the only nation to have clinched the trophy more times than Singapore.

For former Lions legend Fandi it’s a make-or-break.

He has been entrusted with the task to lead at the upcoming tournament, after being appointed as interim head coach in May this year. He took over from V Sundramoorthy, who had been in charge of the Lions for almost two years.

Fandi looks to have revived the Lions’ confidence as he got off to a solid start as a new-look Lions stayed unbeaten in their first four international friendlies – with a draw against Mauritius, followed by wins over minnows Fiji, Mongolia and Cambodia. The team just returned from a training camp in Japan.

In my opinion, having covered football for over three decades, success or failure hinges on two primary factors: Leadership and experience.

If the senior players can perform to their abilities, they may be able to carry the team to a decent showing.

Fandi can only do so much. In the end it is the players who are on the pitch – whether they are passive passengers or they put their whole heart into the matches.

To roar or not to roar: The ball is in the field of the Lions.

ends