Sundram has much to do ahead of Bahrain qualifier
Lions coach must address these issues ahead of Asian Cup qualifier against Bahrain
Singapore coach V Sundramoorthy will have plenty to mull over, ahead of next Tuesday's Asian Cup third-round qualifying opener against Bahrain.
The Lions lost 2-1 to Afghanistan in an international friendly at the Al-Sailiya Sports Club yesterday morning (Singapore time) and here are the main issues that Sundram must address.
Can Irfan Fandi cut it as a centre back at the international level?
In perhaps one of his most daring moves yet, Sundram threw the two-capped 19-year-old into the deep end against Afghanistan. He certainly showed signs of his promise in yesterday morning's match.
After playing about half a year in this position, the striker-turned-defender relies less on lunging tackles and keeps things simpler because he reads the game better now.
Physically, his 1.86-metre frame is ideal, but Irfan also impressed skipper Hariss Harun with his ability to launch attacks with diagonal passes.
"He is calm, a good physical presence in defence and is able to create plays in attack," said Hariss.
Sundram added: "On his second cap, Irfan has done great and he's got a good future in the centre-back position with his technique and aerial ability."
There was just one lapse of concentration in the 34th minute when he dawdled on the ball and played a weak backpass that was nearly intercepted by an opposing striker.
If Irfan retains his place against Bahrain, he will have to stay switched on for the entire match. Making just one mistake could be fatal against stronger opponents.
Should Hariss Harun be pushed further upfield?
There were occasions when the skipper looked to venture forward against Afghanistan to provide more support for isolated striker Khairul Amri, only to be held back by Sundram.
The Singapore coach does have a point as he wants extra protection for his back four against faster and technically-superior opposition.
Hariss, who played his first competitive match in four months and did well, agreed and said: "Considering our opponents and how I may lack match fitness, it is probably the right move.
"In previous teams, Izzdin (Shafiq) or Anumanthan (Mohan Kumar) would be the deeper-lying midfielder, but I have no problems in this role, too."
How can the Lions get a result against Bahrain?
Singapore have not managed even one draw against Bahrain in all six previous encounters, so it really is a tall order, although Sundram is not ruling out the possibility of an upset.
The 51-year-old said: "We have to come up with a plan, but it will surely involve hard work and tactical discipline."
Goalkeeper Hassan Sunny had just one save to make against Afghanistan and the two goals he conceded were due to the defence's inability to clear the ball in the fifth minute, and Amri's careless concession of possession in the second half.
The Lions must learn when to play the ball out or just hoof it to safety.
Hariss said: "The international level is different from the S.League and we will need to learn fast how to adapt.
"We can't keep conceding early or late goals, otherwise it is going to cost us."
Up front, wingers Faris Ramli and Shawal Anuar were too lightweight and anonymous in the first half.
They must be prepared for Bahrain's physical play and still sneak past the fullbacks like Shawal did for his goal in the 47th minute.
Amri cut a lone desperate figure in the opponents' half and will need better service, although it's easier said than done when Bahrain are expected to dominate possession.
If all else fails from open play, Singapore need to make full use of what set-piece opportunities they can force.
Yasir Hanapi is capable of good deliveries, but struggled in windy conditions yesterday morning and will need to improve in time for Bahrain.
What is Sundram's Plan B?
Few surprises here, although they could prove to be effective.
Chasing an equaliser, Safuwan Baharudin surged forward in the last 10 minutes and won a few headers that went wide of goal.
Khairul Nizam also came off the bench for the last half an hour and showed good energy harrying defenders. He also had a good chance late on, but fired straight at the goalkeeper.
"We showed in the second half that we can compete against stronger teams," said Hariss.
"But, at the end of the day, we need to have an end product to show for our efforts.
"If we can score a couple of goals, we will stand a chance."
David Lee and Benjamin Seetor's trip is sponsored by Qatar Airways Singapore. Qatar Airways has a modern fleet of 195 aircraft flying to more than 150 business and leisure destinations, including Doha and Bahrain. The world's fastest-growing airline will add a number of exciting new destinations, including Dublin, Nice and Skopje, to its network this year.