Sundram challenges Singapore to up the ante

With the fasting month of Ramadan now over, Singapore Select XI coach V. Sundramoorthy expects his players to stick with Stoke City for much longer on Saturday night than they managed against Arsenal.

Many of the 29,867 fans present at the National Stadium on Wednesday were impressed by the gritty first-half display the Singapore selection produced against the Gunners in their opening Barclays Asia Trophy fixture.

The passing was fluid, with the triangle of Safuwan Baharudin, Izzdin Shafiq and Shahdan Sulaiman very active in the middle of the park. At one point, the possession stat stood at 52 per cent in the home side’s favour.

That earned praise from Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger, who commented it was an “electric” first half from their far less-fancied opponents. While Sundram was flattered by that, he now wants his side to up their ante against Stoke in Saturday’s third-place playoff.

“It feels good for me and the players when a great coach like Wenger said you’ve done well,” Sundram, pictured above alongside Singapore Select XI striker Nicolas Velez, said at the pre-match press conference at the Grand Hyatt Hotel on Friday afternoon.

“It was a great outing that day, but now we definitely expect them to perform much better. Especially now the fasting month is over, so we want them to perform up to 75 minutes, instead of just the first 45.”

In particular Sundram wants his side to improve on the delivery of their passes in the final third and stay extra focused at set plays, where players like Peter Crouch and Ryan Shawcross can pose a big threat.

“We did well from defence to midfield against Arsenal, but the killer pass needs to be timely,” the man affectionately known as ‘the Dazzler’ said.

“We made the runs but did not deliver the final pass well, so we definitely need to improve on that. More or less, we know Stoke’s style of play and strengths.

“They have big boys like Peter Crouch who can take down the long ball and flick it on, so the key is to do well in marking at set pieces. We’re looking at Bai (Baihakki Khaizan) who was marking (Per) Mertesacker that day to do the job for us.”

With most of the tickets snapped up for tomorrow’s finale, Sundram wants his side to entertain as well as play for the win.

“It will be a dream atmosphere for all the officials and players if it’s going to be a sell-out crowd,” the 49-year-old said.

“When I was a player, I always played against full-capacity crowds. That gives us a duty to perform at our best and entertain them, so that they get value for money. When everyone in the stadium is backing you, it feels like you just need to go one level higher in your performance, so you’ll try to score some goals or even make some out-of-the-box celebrations when you score.

“I’ve spoken to some of my players and they said they learnt a lot from Arsenal in terms of the way they make shorts passes and their movement off the ball. Now they’re trying to play in the same attractive way to impress the fans and the media.

“Nobody expects us to win (against Stoke) but I think that in football, nothing is impossible. We’re looking forward to going out there and upsetting the odds.”