Baihakki Khaizan admitted that Singapore were not good enough at the previous two AFF Suzuki Cup tournaments and urged the team to use this “wake-up call” as their motivation at the 2018 edition.
Now 34, Baihakki who was named in Fandi Ahmad’s 23-man squad, will be going into his eighth Suzuki Cup tournament having tasted success in 2004, 2007 and 2012.
The giant centre-back would have loved to add a record fourth regional title to his impressive resume but Singapore stumbled out of the blocks and were eliminated at the group stages in the 2014 and 2016 editions.
Spending the entire season with Udon Thani in the Thai League 2 this year has helped Baihakki to return to form and the veteran is seeking to help the Lions to erase the nightmares of the previous two editions. He is also looking to guide the youngsters in the squad to make a splash at this year’s tournament.
“Since my first Suzuki Cup appearance, there have been ups and downs (for Singapore) but we all know nothing goes smooth forever in football. We tried our best to sustain our successes but football is forever changing,” Baihakki told FOX Sports Asia.
“After the last few disappointing editions, we have finally come out and realised that we are really a few steps back as compared to our neighbouring countries and all of us players should use this as a wake-up call.
“The fans want more, the Singapore public wants to see us play good football and my own objective is to make that happen.
“I want us to do well in this Suzuki Cup so that we can leave something positive to build on for the next generation. There are 18, 19 and 20-year-olds in this squad and they want to start their international career bright. It is part of my duty to help them make that happen.”
Having accumulated a wealth of experience in his 15-year international career, Baihakki knows a winning start at the tournament is crucial for any team to gain confidence, and sees the opening game against Indonesia as a must-win fixture before negotiating the rest of their Group B opponents, Thailand, Philippines and Timor-Leste.
“This new tournament format gives each team two home games in the group stage and we must take full advantage of it,” the former Johor Darul Ta’zim defender explained.
“Playing against Indonesia at home in our first game, we can only think of getting three points. It really doesn’t matter if it was Indonesia or any other team. We need that good start and it is what it is.”
Baihakki also sees this year’s tournament as a huge opportunity for the players to impress potential scouts from clubs around the region.
“While I always believed the AFF Suzuki Cup is the biggest platform for us Singapore players to show our abilities, this year’s tournament is even more important because many leagues in the region have opened up ASEAN-player slots,” he said.
“Take Thailand for example, they increased the ASEAN-player quota to three for next season so every player, not just from Singapore, will be out to impress the clubs and coaches.
“Suzuki Cup allowed me the chance to fulfill my dreams of playing abroad so it will always be a special tournament for me. I hope the same thing happens for some of my teammates.”
With five goals in 133 appearances for the Lions, Baihakki, along with Khairul Amri and Shahril Ishak, have an opportunity to set a record by becoming the first players to win the showpiece event four times as a player. But the veteran refused to put any thought into that, preferring to take it one game at a time.
“Of course it will be nice to get that record but throughout my career, I have never thought about such records and have always focused on getting the job done first, and maybe one day when I am done, I can look back at what I’ve achieved later,” Baihakki remarked.
“For now, it is all about getting the team ready and I have to go back to the past few tournaments where it didn’t go well for us. We need to focus on the team because that is all that matters. This is a young team and me, along with the other seniors in the squad have to guide them. I still label Singapore as underdogs and that suits us fine.”
Singapore open their campaign this Friday at home to Bima Sakti’s Indonesia while reigning champions Thailand entertain Timor-Leste on the same night.