Underdogs Taiwan target Lions' scalp
With 10 foreign-based players, the Taiwanese are brimming with confidence ahead of Asian Cup qualifier
If the Lions think Taiwan, their opponents in Saturday's Asian Cup qualifier, are easy meat, they could be in for a rude shock.
The Taiwanese have improved much since they last met Singapore six years ago.
When Singapore beat them 3-2 in an international friendly at Jalan Besar Stadium in 2011, the Taiwan squad comprised mostly players from their Inter City League, an amateur competition made up of eight teams from the army, universities and various districts.
Come Saturday, V Sundramoorthy's men will be facing a team made of sterner stuff.
Ten players in their 23-man squad are from foreign leagues.
These include seven from the top three divisions in the booming Chinese football league, one from the Belgian Pro League, one from the Spanish regional league, and one from the Thai League 3.
Their coach Kazuo Kuroda believes these foreign-based players can lift his team to victory at Jalan Besar.
The 68-year-old, who is the third coach to helm Taiwan in 14 months, told The New Paper: "The team have improved a lot since 2011, in terms of attack, defence, discipline, preparations, and the way we approach games.
"Individuals who have played in foreign leagues would have learnt about what it takes to succeed as a professional footballer and as an import, and that can only be good for the team.
"I believe Singapore's standards are much higher than ours. They are a very organised team, while our backline is quite inexperienced (Chen Ting-yang is their most-capped defender with 20 appearances).
The team have improved a lot since 2011, in terms of attack, defence, discipline, preparations, and the way we approach games.Taiwan coach Kazuo Kuroda
"Another issue for us is those who play in the domestic league have played on artificial pitches so they should have no problems, but most of our foreign-based players play on natural turf, so they may not be used to Jalan Besar.
"Regardless, we are aiming for victory to give the sport a boost in Taiwan, where football is not as popular as baseball and basketball."
Although Taiwan, who are ranked world No. 160, finished bottom of their group with no points in the second round of Asian Cup qualification, they were handed a lifeline when they beat Timor Leste 4-2 on aggregate in the play-offs for a place in the third round.
In recent matches, they lost 4-2 to Hong Kong, beat Guam 2-0, and drew 1-1 with Vietnam, before losing 3-1 to Turkmenistan in their last Asian Cup qualifier.
While they are the lowest-ranked team in Group E, which also comprises Bahrain and Turkmenistan, Taiwan are taking the qualifiers seriously.
They arrived in Singapore as early as Monday, and have been training on the artificial pitch at Jurong East Stadium since Tuesday.
Skipper Chen Po-liang, who plays for Chinese second-tier side Hangzhou Greentown, is one of this squad's four players who played in the 2011 friendly against Singapore.
The midfielder said: "You can tell how important this match is to our football association when they call up almost all the players from abroad.
"Playing professional football in China in times like this is really an eye-opening experience. We work with good foreign coaches, train at high intensity, play against superstars and learn more about tactics.
"I feel we are a better team than we were in 2011, but Singapore have just drawn against Bahrain, and we know they are defensively well-organised, so we can't underestimate them.
"I don't think we are favourites but we are definitely going for the win."
Chen also hopes to secure a positive result for those affected by the recent storm in Taipei, where one woman was killed, at least five injured and two missing.
He said: "We feel very sad, and we have them in our minds.
"We hope that things will return to normal as soon as possible, and those affected will stay strong."