Plenty to ponder for Sundram
National coach has much to do to get qualifying campaign back on track after loss to Taiwan
It's back to the drawing board for national football coach V Sundramoorthy and the Lions.
After a superb 0-0 draw against favourites Bahrain in their opening Asian Cup Group E qualifier in March, world No. 157 Singapore fell to a disappointing 2-1 home defeat by 160th-ranked Taiwan at Jalan Besar Stadium on Saturday.
Sundram will have plenty to ponder about with four games left to salvage their dream of qualifying for the 2019 Finals in the United Arab Emirates.
1 WHERE ARE SINGAPORE'S MATCH-WINNERS?
With perhaps the exception of Khairul Amri, Sundram's team severely lack players who can consistently score goals or can regularly get the fans on the edge of their seats.
Hariss Harun, Singapore's captain for Saturday's game, told The New Paper that the situation is "very worrying".
The 26-year-old said: "Holding Bahrain to a draw is a good result but, when we play Taiwan at home, we can't be struggling for goals and going for a draw."
Sundram has also voiced his concern and has hinted at relooking into the Foreign Talent Scheme to bring in foreign talents such as Warriors FC's Canadian winger Jordan Webb, Home United's South Korean midfielder Song Ui Yong and French defender Sirina Camara to bolster the national team.
"These boys will definitely help us. They have been in the league long enough, they will add strength and ability to the team and help us compete at the international level," he told TNP in an earlier interview.
"One of the reasons I felt so bad after the game was that more than 5,000 fans showed up and we didn't. I believe we can still do it, but we have to believe and work together."Midfielder Hariss Harun is confident the Lions can bounce back against Turkmenistan at home on Sept 5
With the trio having fulfilled the five-year residency requirement, the Football Association of Singapore should not waste time with the applications if it agrees with Sundram's assessment.
However, they are not natural strikers, so the FAS must start looking for a stop-gap solution until it can develop one.
2 WHAT IS SAFUWAN BAHARUDIN'S BEST POSITION?
Should he play as a defender or striker for the national team?
One wonders why one of the region's best centre backs is not playing in his natural position.
Sundram was forced to field Safuwan as a striker against Taiwan after Amri was ruled out with appendicitis, but the makeshift striker couldn't make much impact with a lack of support from his teammates.
"Safuwan did okay up front, flicking headers, making runs and winning free-kicks," said Sundram after the match.
The 25-year-old toils tirelessly up front but, if the Lions have to rely on his aerial prowess, they have to keep pumping long balls to him, most times without providing adequate support.
So what are the other options? Khairul Nizam was the only natural striker in Sundram's squad, but has yet to open his international account after 19 games.
Team captain Shahril Ishak was the LionsXII's top-scorer in 2012 and 2013, and starred as the national team's striker in the 2012 Suzuki Cup, but has played a bit-part role under Sundram.
Faris Ramli has 11 goals and 12 assists for Home, mostly from a more central role, but was a pale shadow of himself on the left wing for 50 minutes against Taiwan before being replaced.
Hariss said: "Safuwan had scored in six consecutive league games for PDRM FA before the international break and, with Amri out, it's normal for Sundram to put his hopes on him that he can carry over his good form.
"We know his strengths and we have to help him. Against Taiwan, he didn't get that support from us. Collectively, we didn't take the risk to put more bodies in the box, and that isolated Safuwan.
"I believe Faris and Nizam play with more freedom at Home United but, from a tactical point of view, international football is on a different level and has different demands.
"We need to execute what the coach wants."
3 IS THE LONG-BALL ROUTE THE WAY TO GO FOR THE LIONS?
On Saturday, Singapore started with five players each from Home and Tampines Rovers, the top two local S.League teams who have shown this season they are capable of playing a short-passing game under Aidil Sharin and Juergen Raab respectively.
But, against Taiwan, the Lions chose to hoof the ball upfield time and again. It is fair to conclude that after 14 international games in charge, Sundram's Lions are a long-ball team.
They have scored only seven goals in this period, two of which began from long throws and a corner that led to Hariss' sixth-minute opener against Taiwan, while four were via long passes.
When asked about his tactics, Sundram said: "In the last five to six minutes, we have Irfan, Nizam and Safuwan up there... using the fastest route to goal, we need to put the ball into the box. A few good long balls and flick-ons, we could have troubled their back four and their goalkeeper."
Hariss admitted that they should had made better use of their possession.
He said: "We have players who are good on the ball, so why couldn't we be more composed?
"We kept giving the ball away, which put unnecessary pressure on us and helped them grow in confidence.
"The long ball is an option but, on the pitch, we have to decide what is the best option to take.
"We didn't do enough on Saturday and we have to look at what we did wrong and improve."