TIRED BOD­IES, FRESH MINDS

The Straits Times - - FRONT PAGE - Wang Meng Meng In Ba­colod (Philip­pines)

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.”

ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

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.

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