TIRED BODIES, FRESH MINDS
There was no time for a celebratory supper nor a joyous sing-along.
For the Lions, in the hours after their AFF Suzuki Cup 1-0 opening win over Indonesia on Friday, the recovery clock started counting down to Tuesday’s Group B game in the Philippines.
It is not crossing swords with bigname coach Sven-Goran Eriksson or the possibility of facing Cardiff City goalkeeper Neil Etheridge that is uppermost on the minds of the Singapore players.
The team’s biggest enemy now is lactic acid and fatigue after a 10-hour journey to the city of Bacolod for the Asean Football Federation championship match.
Interim national coach Fandi Ahmad, looking and sounding tired after the rigours of the journey, is on a mission to keep his troops fresh against the Azkals, who will be playing their opener at the 20,000-capacity Panaad Stadium.
“It is key for the boys to get good hydration and good rest now,” the 56-year-old said. “Even though we left (Singapore) early, it is still a very hectic trip for us.
“The Philippine team will be fresh and prepared. Their last game was on Nov 6 (a 3-1 win over Mongolia in their training camp).
“It is all about our mental strength now. We must be prepared for a real tough fight.”
The Singapore party of 23 players and 16 officials left their base at the Oasia Hotel in Novena at 7.45am.
They boarded a 10.30am Philippine Airlines flight, touched down in Manila at 2.30pm, cleared immigration, collected their luggage (all 1,000kg of it), passed security screening, checked in the luggage again, before dashing across to the domestic terminal for the 1hr 15min connecting flight at 3.45pm.
They eventually touched down in Bacolod-Silay Airport at 6pm.
On a lighter note, some players managed to, of all things, find a Ya Kun Kaya Toast in the terminal. But to the horror of Ikhsan Fandi, who bought a big packet of kaya butter toast to share with teammates, the bread came without – kaya butter.
But there is serious business to be done and, while there is a sense of fellowship among the Lions, they do need to take care of the tools of their trade for their mission – namely their bodies and boots.
According to Eric Ong, Football Association of Singapore head of national teams management, each player is required to bring three pairs of boots for every overseas match: one pair with six long studs for better traction on wet pitches, a pair with normal studs for general use and a spare.
As an added precaution against lost luggage, the Lions must handcarry at least one pair of cleats when they board the plane.
Every Lion who played on Friday had to wear a pair of compression tights to aid recovery. A medical team of one physiotherapist, two sports trainers, one masseuse and one sport scientist are on hand to monitor the players’ fitness.
Left-back Shakir Hamzah explained: “The players may be more lethargic after spending so many hours on the plane. The tights will help to prevent cramps.
“It is a long and tiring trip but we just have to adapt to the conditions. We had travelled farther to other countries and, once we are in the hotel, we will have time to rest.”
The 26-year-old also warned about the intimidating atmosphere at the stadium, having recently played for Singapore Premier League club Home United in a 1-1 draw with Ceres-Negros.
“The fans are very close to the field. That could be a problem if it gets heated,” said Shakir, whose club eventually won the Asian Football Confederation Cup Asean zone final tie 3-1 on aggregate.
But Fandi believes his men have the fortitude to face the odds, saying: “It will not be easy but the mood in our camp is very good. We want to continue where we left off against Indonesia.”
The Lions with their luggage at Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport while transiting to Bacolod City yesterday, ahead of Tuesday’s Asean Football Federation Suzuki Cup match with the Philippines. The journey to Bacolod took a total of 10 hours.