Raddy, Riedl expect even draw
Theng Wai Mun
Singapore national coach Radojko Avramovic and Vietnam counterpart Alfred Riedl are expecting an even contest when their teams meet at the National Stadium on Saturday.
The Group B match will kickstart both countries’ ASEAN Football Championship campaigns, after Indonesia and Laos, the group’s other two members, face off at the same venue earlier in the evening.
With Singapore, Vietnam and Indonesia all closely matched in terms of squad strength, competition for the two semifinal berths is expected to be very tight.
The smallest edge may well prove decisive, as Singapore and Vietnam prepare to do battle with each other just three weeks after they had last crossed swords in Thailand.
Riedl’s boys had come out tops on that occasion, sealing their place in the 37th King’s Cup final with a 3-2 victory after Singapore had equalized twice.
Nonetheless, Avramovic was the more confident coach of the two when they held separate press conferences on the eve of the match, noting that his Lions are not that far off from seizing the three points this time.
“We had some good games when we were in Thailand, including the match against Vietnam,” said the 57-year-old.
“It is true we lost to Vietnam, but we never put our best team out for that tournament. Still, the match could have gone either way, because at 2-2, we missed three really great chances to score.
“Of course, tomorrow’s game is a new game, and for Singapore, it is the most important game at the moment. As the last champions of this tournament, and also as hosts, we have an obligation to our supporters.
“An opening game against a good team like Vietnam will be a big test for us. We want to see if we are still champion material or not.”
While Avramovic was putting his focus on the positives for Singapore, Riedl appeared oddly keen to put on a humble front in an about-turn before the media.
The Austrian was reported by Vietnamese news sites to be eyeing a clean sweep in the group phase, and was quoted as saying the team “is coming to win all three games”.
On the eve of the match, though, he was singing a very different tune as he praised Singapore as a ‘strong’ and ‘tall’ outfit that would test Vietnam’s title aspirations.
He even ventured to suggest that Vietnam could be eliminated early from the tournament, in a clear sign that he was eager to paint his side as the underdogs for Saturday’s match.
“I think it is an equal game, and it will be tough against Singapore,” said Riedl.
“Singapore is a strong team, and they have tall players – taller than us anyway. They are winners of the last Championship, so we are in for a tough match.
“These two teams, together with Indonesia, have similar chances of progressing, even though we should not underestimate Laos. It will be difficult for all of us.
“One of the three teams will have to go home in the end. It might well be Vietnam.”
As the countdown towards the big match begins, both teams face niggling concerns over the physical readiness of their respective ace marksmen.
Vietnam appear to be the more badly hit of the two, after it was claimed that Le Cong Vinh, whose late strike in Bangkok proved the difference against Singapore, had injured his knee in training late last week.
Riedl was quick to reassure the media, however, that the 21-year-old has already recovered from the knock, declaring him “100% fit” to face Singapore.
He has however ruled Nguyen Anh Duc, another first-team regular, out for the group phase, and may turn to Dang Van Thanh, who was recalled as cover for both forwards.
“Cong Vinh is fit of course, he is 100% fit, or else he wouldn’t be in the list,” said Riedl.
“Anh Duc is out though, because he could not survive the training this morning. He complained of pain, which means he cannot help the team, and so he will not be training for one week.
“We are taking no risks with any player. A player’s health is always the biggest priority, and if he is not 100% fit, we will not give injections to make him play.
“With Cong Vinh, especially, he’s too young for us to take any risks with his health. But he is 100% fit, so he will play.”
In contrast, the news from the Singapore camp is more encouraging, as Noh Alam Shah is showing no recent signs of being hindered by his niggling ankle injury.
The news will undoubtedly please Avramovic, who has been wrapping Indra Sahdan in cotton wool ever since the latter starred in a friendly against the Philippines last Sunday.
Currently Singapore’s most prolific goalscorer, Indra is steadily priming himself for the tournament after he had recently recovered from knee surgery, which had kept him out of action for almost seven months.
With Indra and Alam Shah looking good to line up against Vietnam, Avramovic will be in a position to field his strongest team, a luxury he has not enjoyed for months.
“We’ve been facing problems all of last year, because players were not available through injury,” said the Serbian, reflecting on a quiet 2006 for Singapore.
“But we have been preparing these players to recover in time for this tournament. I think we have succeeded in that, and we will be able to put our best team out this time.
“For any coach to not have his key players is worrying. But in the case of Indra and Alam Shah, they have shown great attitude and convinced me that they really want to play in this tournament.
“We have thus done everything that is possible to make them ready, and I think they will have their wish. Will they play against Vietnam? I’d say most probably.”