Sundram insists Lions have improved despite wretched run
Sundram insists his team have upped their game by playing stronger sides
He has heard it muttered throughout the year, and read about it in one media report after another, as it gained momentum as 2017 nears its end.
V. Sundram Moorthy's Lions have not won all year and by now, even non-football fans might also know that the last time the Lions tasted victory was in November last year, in a friendly against Cambodia.
But as the Lions prepare for the year's final competitive fixture, a Group E Asian Cup qualifier against Bahrain tonight, Sundram bristled at questions on the winless run.
"We've been playing teams like Qatar, Turkmenistan, Lebanon and Hong Kong who are full of (naturalised) players, (and are) stronger opponents," he said.
Qatar are ranked 97th in the Fifa world order, with Lebanon just three places behind, while Hong Kong are 142nd, all above the 173rd-ranked Lions.
Said Sundram: "Performance-wise, the boys are competing with these teams.
"I believe it's very important to play against stronger opposition. We could have easily played against teams like Laos and Cambodia, but that's not what I want."
He believes his charges have been showing progress on the pitch, even as results have been slow to improve.
"We're very fluid in games now, positionally better, and the boys are improving," said Sundram, who believes this year's experiences will put the Lions in good stead when facing South-east Asian opposition during next year's AFF Suzuki Cup.
Said the 52-year-old: "For the Suzuki Cup, I'm definitely confident.
"Looking at the quality of teams there, we are on a par with them and will compete when we have a full complement of players. But we will move forward with what we have."
For now, he is focused on keeping Singapore's fast-fading hopes of qualification for the 2019 Asian Cup Finals alive.
Singapore are bottom of Group E with just two points, four behind third-placed Taiwan, and five points adrift of both Turkmenistan and Bahrain. With just two matches left, the Lions must beat Bahrain to stay in the running.
"What I want to see from the players is character and fighting spirit. We must be energetic, closing down every ball, and running for 90 or 95 minutes," said Sundram.
"The boys are really performing (better) in these last few games and, with another good performance, we should get something."
Singapore captain Hariss Harun sang from the same hymn book, but went one step further, calling for players who pull on the red jersey to take personal responsibility.
"It's not easy to go a whole year without winning, that can get into the heads of players. But as seniors in the team, we're trying to make sure that the team don't dwell on it," said the 26-year-old.
"We are playing with more courage now. It's still not great because we're not getting results, but we're giving it all we've got."
The midfielder also wants more. He added: "We need a little something extra, and that must come from us, the players, when we step across that line and onto the pitch," he said, still believing that tonight the Lions can ignite a spark to cast some light on a gloomy year.
"If we score the first goal, we will be hard to break down."
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