Big fight for places in Lions' defence
Host of defenders set to battle for place in Sundram's AFF Suzuki Cup squad
Not so long ago, Singapore's central defensive partnership of Baihakki Khaizan and Safuwan Baharudin was hailed as the best in South-east Asia.
That was in 2012, when the Lions lifted a record-equalling fourth AFF Suzuki Cup crown.
Four years on, the 32-year-old Baihakki is still part of the Lions' defence, but Safuwan, 24, is all but regarded as a central midfielder.
As far as the position of starting centre back goes, it remains very much up in the air who national coach V Sundramoorthy will pick for the AFF Suzuki Cup in November.
Sundram's 25-man squad gathered for their first day of centralised training at the Geylang Field last night and the defenders, in particular, were chomping at the bit to show what they were capable of, ahead of a training camp in Niigata, Japan, from July 17 to 24.
Geylang International defender Daniel Bennett, 38, recalled to the national squad for the first time in three years, has his eyes on a starting spot.
Speaking to The New Paper last night, the veteran, who played most of his 124 games in a Lions shirt at fullback, said: "If not, there's no point of me coming here. It's the national team. We're not here to have a social kickabout.
"So, of course, I want to play. But it's up to the coach."
In Singapore's last international match, at the AYA Bank Cup quadrangular tournament in Myanmar last month, the Lions crashed 3-0 to Vietnam after extra time.
In that game, the veteran Baihakki, who plies his trade in Malaysia with Johor Darul Ta'zim II and will not join the squad this time round, partnered 25-year-old Madhu Mohana at the heart of Singapore's defence.
Madhu Mohana. PHOTO: SPH FILE PHOTO
Three days earlier, midfield general Hariss Harun, 25, deputised for Madhu, who was suspended, as Singapore eked out a 1-0 win over hosts Myanmar.
Abdil Qaiyyim. PHOTO: FILE PHOTO
Abdil Qaiyyim, 27, Afiq Yunos, 25, and 22-year-old Shannon Stephen are the other centre backs in Sundram's squad.
Abdil, who is uncapped, said: "As a player, it's always good to have that extra motivation knowing there's a slot for you to fight for. It's all up for grabs."
Afiq Yunos. PHOTO: SPH FILE PHOTO
Sundram is happy with the options he has at his disposal.
Shannon Stephen. PHOTO: SPH FILE PHOTO
"I can't judge players based on past performances, I have to look at their current form," said the coach.
"We have good centre backs and we can always think of other options, like playing three at the back.
"To me, the most important thing is we need the whole team to defend as a unit. Now it's up to those (new faces) who are with us to play for their places."
Bennett relished his return to the national team.
"The players have changed, although I still know most of them," he said.
"The place (Geylang Field) has changed, too. I only recognise the buildings around and the mosque.
"The field, everything else is different... But it's nice what they've done (to upgrade the training facility)."
A three-time Suzuki Cup winner (2004, 2007 and 2012) with the Lions, Bennett knows an unshakeable defence is the platform for a title-winning side and is confident he can help the team.
"If Sundram thinks I can still contribute, I'll give everything I have."