Sundram satisfied with defensive options
Madhu and Bennett likely to lead defence in Asian Cup qualifier against Bahrain next month
Despite the high-profile exclusion of 129-cap defender Baihakki Khaizan, it was business as usual as Lions coach V Sundramoorthy conducted his first national team training session of the year at the Geylang Lorong 12 field yesterday.
Among the 28 players called up, no less than seven have played at centre back and the 51-year-old seemed assured of his defence ahead of the first 2019 Asian Cup qualifier away at Bahrain on March 28.
He said: "Daniel Bennett and Madhu Mohana combined well at the Suzuki Cup, so that's a big plus for us.
"We can get players in for defence, and we still have Hariss Harun and Safuwan Baharudin who can also play at the back, so it's not a big issue.
"We will try as much as possible to gather the national players every Monday to work on technique, tactics and fitness to get them ready for this new assignment.
"The door is still open for any local player who makes a good impression when the S.League kicks off again later this month.
"At the Asian Cup qualifiers, it will be all about us.
We can get players in for defence, and we still have Hariss Harun and Safuwan Baharudin who can also play at the back, so it’s not a big issue.Singapore coach V Sundramoorthy on his defensive options
"If we can hold the fort and compete, we have every chance of upsetting the odds."
The Lions returned from the Philippines last November after being knocked out of the Suzuki Cup group stages, but the defence did okay, conceding an average of one goal per game after a 0-0 draw with the hosts, a 1-0 defeat by Thailand and a 2-1 loss to Indonesia.
Even at 39, Bennett has continued to prove doubters wrong with his composure alongside Madhu who grabbed his chance after Baihakki was dropped to the bench.
World No. 126 Bahrain, Turkmenistan (144th) and Taiwan (157th), however, should provide the 164th-ranked Lions stiffer opposition in Group E of the Asian Cup qualifiers.
Bennett said: "Middle Eastern teams are always strong.
"We may have lost to Bahrain in all of our last six meetings, but we were unlucky to lose to three penalties in our last encounter.
"Bahrain away will be our toughest game but, like every team, we will want to get a good result from our first game and get off to a good start.
"It is not just about Madhu and myself as we have other good defenders in the team but, the more I play with Madhu, the more I appreciate his qualities.
"Mind you, we didn't know each other well when we played together for the first time in a friendly in Japan.
"But, as we played together more often and got to know him better, I saw that he is very calm, good in the air and reads the game well in defensive and attacking positions."
Madhu, 25, added: "Dan has plenty of experience, anticipates and communicates well. I think we were compatible playing together at the Suzuki Cup.
"It helps that we both play for Tampines Rovers now. Training and playing together almost daily will surely help to improve our partnership."
Sundram and his team also welcomed back into the national fold an old face in the form of Aleksandar Bozenko, who will now double up from his current role as Singapore Under-20s fitness coach.
After seeing the 64-year-old Serb put his players through a punishing but necessary session, Sundram said: "Sasha (Bozenko) has worked with some of the boys from 2004 to 2015 and seen them grow up.
"He knows our culture and understands many of these players. He makes a positive difference."