Madhu not resting on laurels despite tight defensive record
The Lions have made a decent start to their joint World Cup and Asian Cup qualifiers, collecting seven points in four games to lie third in Group E.
One of the key reasons for their success so far has been the excellent partnership between Madhu and Baihakki at the heart of defence. In a total of 360 minutes, they have only allowed one goal to get past keeper Izwan Mahbud – Oday Al-Jafal’s header in the 1-0 away defeat against Syria.
Madhu has benefited from playing alongside the experienced Baihakki, who has amassed 119 caps, picking out the latter’s goal-line clearance in the last minute of the 1-0 win against Afghanistan last Thursday as a the perfect example.
“I’m really lucky to be able to get a defensive partner like Bai,” said Madhu, who has a total of eight caps to his name so far.
While we’re confident of a win, we have to still put in the hard work
“We haven’t played that many games together, but we kind of clicked and complemented each other in terms of reading each other’s play. In every training and match so far, I’m learning from him.
“We communicate a fair bit during matches and it’s important that I get a noisy centre-back (as a partner) rather than one who keeps quiet. He has over 100 caps and that experience counts in key situations.
“For example in the last game, I had a moment of miscommunication with Izwan where we both went for the ball and their striker managed to head the ball towards goal. Bai was able to read that situation and positioned himself there to clear the ball – that’s the kind of experience which you cannot learn in a short time.”
Despite getting the all-important three points and keeping a clean sheet against the Afghans, Madhu believes there is still a lot of work to be done for the backline. The South Asian champions managed to create a truckload of chances and were perhaps unlucky not to have converted one.
“We were complacent and we thought could ‘makan’ them,” admitted Madhu.
“We were too open in the way we started the game, thus leaving a lot of gaps at the back. We had to stay compact which we didn’t do. End of the day, it comes down to being focused on winning the individual battles on the pitch. If we do that, we will continue winning.”
Next up for the Lions is a home encounter against Cambodia, whom they defeated 4-0 in Phnom Penh in the first game of the qualifiers. The Angkor Warriors are languishing at the foot of Group E after four defeats in four, but Madhu is not taking a victory for granted.
“We beat them 4-0 then but every game is different,” warned the 24-year-old.
“The ball is round and we have to keep our feet on the ground. While we’re confident of a win, we have to still put in the hard work and not be complacent at all.”
That said, Madhu is relishing his and Baihakki’s chances of scoring whenever they go up for set pieces. The former has scored three goals so far this season at club level with the LionsXII, but missed a gilt-edged opportunity against Afghanistan to break his international duck.
“Of course our main duty is to keep a clean sheet, but if we have chances to score, we have to take them,” said the former Woodlands Wellington defender.
“Both of us have height so that can be a good advantage. It was a golden opportunity to score in the last game, but I screwed up the connection which is something I have to improve on.”
With just 7,128 fans turning up for the crucial win against Afghanistan, Madhu is hoping to see a larger crowd on Tuesday night.
“Definitely I’m hoping to see more fans coming to give us their support,” he said.
“It feels good to have a home crowd being behind us in a huge game. However it is something which we cannot control. No matter if it’s 1,000 or 10,000 people, we have to get the job done against the Cambodians.”
Tickets to all of Singapore's huge upcoming World Cup qualifiers, including the clashes with Cambodia, Japan and Syria, are now on sale. Get yours from Sports Hub Tix, by calling the hotline at +65 6333 5000/+65 3158 7888, by visiting the Singapore Indoor Stadium box office or dropping into any SingPost outlet islandwide.