SINGAPORE - It will take a brave man to bet on the Lions lifting their fifth Suzuki Cup on New Year's Day.
Not only are world No. 160 Singapore ranked sixth in South-east Asia, they also kick off the Asean Football Federation championship on Sunday (Dec 5) on the back of five straight defeats, scoring just twice and conceding 21 goals.
They will have to contend with powerhouses like defending champions and world No. 99 Vietnam and five-time champions Thailand. Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines have all made strides and are strengthened by mixed heritage or naturalised players.
Interestingly, while the Lions rarely go into the competition as favourites, they have managed to surmount considerable odds to be its second-most successful team with four crowns.
Analysts told The Straits Times there are four factors that could make the difference this time.
PREPARATION AND MORALE
Former Lions coach Radojko Avramovic, who oversaw three of the Lions' victorious campaigns in 2004, 2007 and 2012, said overseas training camps in South Korea, Thailand and Japan respectively helped immensely as the team could focus on fine-tuning tactics and building chemistry.
The 72-year-old Serb added: "Individuals may win you games, but if they can have a good team preparation, build that togetherness and get everyone to fight for the same goal, they can win tournaments."
This year, however, the Lions' Nov 8-17 training camp was fraught with obstacles.
Skipper Hariss Harun and winger Hafiz Nor had Covid-19 and missed the Dubai trip, while defensive players Irfan Fandi, Safuwan Baharudin and M. Anumanthan were recalled by their overseas clubs midway through. However, sources said team morale has been generally high.
Former national skipper and three-time champion Shahril Ishak said: "Usually, we are centralised (both locally and overseas) for up to a month in a distraction-free environment. This time, it feels less ideal because of Covid restrictions and foreign clubs' requirements.
"The team must find ways to overcome this and get into tournament mode quickly."
Comparatively, the Malaysia Cup, Thai and Indonesian leagues are ongoing, which have also hampered the respective national teams' preparations. Team Garuda did go to Turkey for centralised training but were able to call up just two players from each local club.
TACTICS AND INTENSITY
The Dubai tour seemed to have thrown up more questions than answers after Si...