Laos coach Sundram ahead of SEA Games opener: Pressure's on Singapore
Ahead of tomorrow's SEA Games opener with Singapore, Laos coach ups the ante
They have gone from a deadly duo on the pitch, to rivals on the touchline in club football and then a double act in the dugout as assistants to ex-national coach Bernd Stange.
Tomorrow, the Rizal Memorial Stadium in Manila will witness the latest chapter in the inextricable relationship of two of Singapore's favourite footballing sons, V. Sundram Moorthy and Fandi Ahmad, as they meet on the international stage for the first time.
Fandi's Young Lions will kick off their SEA Games campaign against Sundram's Laos in the 13th meeting between the pair as coaches.
It is just the latest crossing of paths in a pair of footballing careers that have regularly intertwined.
As players, European trailblazers Fandi and Sundram knew intimately the burden of carrying the hopes of a nation - three SEA Games silvers bear testament to that.
As coaches, they have in common the experience of helming the Young Lions against more experienced opposition in the domestic league.
They both also made a name for themselves across the Causeway, winning silverware in Malaysian club football with LionsXII, earning themselves stints in charge of the senior national team.
Looking ahead to their latest reunion tomorrow, Sundram highlighted his friendship with his former Lions strike partner, but heaped the pressure on him, saying that Fandi's team are clear favourites in their Group B opener.
"Every game is special, not just this game against Singapore," said Sundram, 54, who has been Laos' national coach for just over a year.
"We are the underdogs, surely. They (Singapore) have invested a lot of resources into the squad and they started their preparations long ago, so the pressure is more on them.
"We want to start with a positive performance... This is the youth level, so anything is possible. If it is your day, it is your day."
Sundram's work with regional minnows Laos - who sit 188th in the Fifa rankings - earned praise recently, as he guided their youngsters to the Asian Football Confederation (AFC ) Under-19 Championship in Uzbekistan next year, progressing undefeated from a group that featured regional heavyweights Australia.
Four of the members of that squad have made the trip to the Philippines.
While Sundram is largely seen as a more pragmatic coach, Fandi - who fancies a more attacking approach - said he is unsure how his former Lions teammate will set out his team.
Fandi, 57, highlighted Sundram's success with the U-19s as a sign the 54-year-old could have a trick up his sleeve.
Said the Young Lions coach: "We must expect the unexpected. We don't know whether he will sit back or he will attack.
"But the results of the U-19s mean he has something up his sleeve, so we have to be wary.
"He is tactically (good) and they have some good players from the U-19s, but the majority of his players are 21-22.
"Whoever we play, we have to be wary, whether it's Brunei and Laos or Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia.
"We need to stay focused.
"We must win the first game to give us a window of (qualifying for) the semi-finals.
"If we lose our first game, it's always a hard mountain to climb. "
While Fandi might be unsure of how Sundram will approach tomorrow's match, the Laos coach has the benefit of knowing all about the Young Lions.
Tomorrow: v Laos (8pm)
Thursday: v Indonesia (8pm)
Sunday: v Thailand (4pm)
Dec 3: v Vietnam (8pm)
Dec 5: v Brunei (4pm)
Ikhsan Fandi is Singapore's man of the moment with eight goals in 18 caps for the senior national team, but Sundram said Laos will be wary of fellow attacker Faris Ramli, midfielder Hami Syahin and defender Irfan Fandi.
"I know all the players in the Singapore squad. And it is not just about Ikhsan," said Sundram.
"They have Faris, Hami and Irfan is dangerous, too. We have to cut the supply to Ikhsan and that will require the whole team to work well together.
"I have worked with Faris before and he is a quality player who can create something out of nothing, so we have to be careful of him."