A battle of experience against desire

Singapore – Philippines coach Michael Weiss feels that his team’s AFF Suzuki Cup semi-final clash against Singapore could come down to a battle between experience and desire as the two evenly-matched sides prepare to square off on Wednesday in the second leg at the Jalan Besar Stadium.

The tie is still evenly poised after a goalless draw at the Rizal Memorial Stadium in Manila last Saturday and Weiss believes that there is little to separate three-time champions Singapore from his tournament upstarts who are appearing at this stage for only the second time after their surprise run to the last four in 2010.

“I think that these are two even teams playing at the same level, and at this point of time, there is some small advantage for the Singapore team on the experience side but our players are hungry and in high spirits to get to the final. I can only hope and pray that they deliver,” said the German in the pre-match press conference on Tuesday.

“We are facing an experienced team with many players who have already won the tournament and also an experienced coach on the other side.

“This is a different time for us now than compared to two years ago when everything was just magic and the team was flying high. But now, it’s different because we want to establish ourselves among the best footballing nations in South-east Asia. We are getting there but we have to prove again and again and again that this is not just a one-time thing and we have to be consistent at this level.

“To be strong consistently at this level, that makes a difference. And I think that going through this tournament, with the experiences now and with the group of players that we have available, I think that we are going to show a good performance tomorrow.”

Weiss stressed that his team cannot begin as cautiously as they did in Manila, when they were outplayed by the visitors during the first half.

“I spoke to the players at half-time in Manila and I think that the second half was very different there. Even though we did not create many chances but I thought that we played harder against Singapore and we pressed them deeper down because they didn’t have the dominating rhythm like they had in the first half,” said the Azkals boss.

“That should also be our approach tomorrow. We have to see whether the Singapore coach [Radojko Avramovic ] has any surprises or maybe tries to play more of a passing game. We will see but we will be prepared either way.”

Weiss does not plan to focus on any individual players in the Singapore team as he feels they have multiple threats in their side.

“I am not looking out for individuals because the team makes a difference and the Singapore team has shown in many aspects of the game that they have threats that you have to counter. Aleksandar Duric is nothing if no crosses are coming and Shahril Ishak is nothing if there is no combination play and he gets no chances in front of goal.

“Singapore is a strong unit with a strong concept who play to their strengths. As coaches we have to find the right strategy with the material that we have. I want to play like Barcelona but I can’t because I don’t have the players for that.

“Mr Avramovic is probably similar so we have to find the right strategy on the day against a Singapore side that is of a similar level but with a bit more experience. But maybe our advantage of having more hunger for the title can make up for that.”

On his part, Avramovic wants his players to adopt the same approach that saw them dominate the opening half in Manila.

“I was very happy with the performance and the attitude of our players in the first game,” said the Serbian. “The job is not done yet, there is still another game but I will be happy if they show the same spirit that they did in the Philippines and I hope that we can go to the final.

“As you saw in the first leg, we are facing strong opponents but you must show your strength when you are playing against good teams and I hope that tomorrow that we show our strength.”

It will be the fourth time that the Lions will be playing in an AFF Suzuki Cup semi-final under Avramovic but the 63-year-old puts no stock into his team’s previous appearances at this stage.

“Every game is different. It’s a new challenge and a new chapter in football and I think you must always look forward to the next game that is coming and try to see how you can be successful,” he said.

“I would like it if the players show the same attitude and approach to the game that they showed last weekend but in the end in football, I don’t think that you can guarantee anything. Football is always unpredictable and you can see that is the case all over the world.

“We must do our part and at the end whatever the result will be, will be. But I just hope that we have enough quality and experience, as Mr Weiss said, to go to the final. That is our target.”

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