Uphill task for Lions but hey, it’s going to be fun to watch

The report (courtesy of the International Herald Tribune/AP):

RIYADH, SAUDI ARABIA: Redha Tukar scored twice and Saudi Arabia beat Lebanon 2-1 on Saturday to put it on the brink of advancing in Asian World Cup qualifying.

The victory left Saudi Arabia with nine points, second in Group 4 six points ahead of third-placed Singapore. Saudi Arabia travels to Sinapore on June 14 and will need only a draw to assure itself of advancing.

Tukar put the Saudis ahead in the 46th minute and doubled the lead on the 60th minute off a pass from Mohammad al-Shlhoub.

Lebanon‘s Mohammad Ghaddar scored in stoppage time after he stole ball from Tukar in the penalty area.

The game was moved to the Saudi capital because of security concerns in Lebanon.

The top two teams advance to the fourth and final round of Asian qualifying for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

My thoughts:

So, it’s official, folks: Singapore will have to win both its remaining World Cup Asia Group 4 qualifying matches – against Saudi Arabia and Lebanon – and hope for Uzbekistan to do them a favour and beat the Saudis in order to advance to the final qualifying round of the competition.

Now that Saudia Arabia has defeated Lebanon 2-1 in their return encounter in Riyadh early this morning, it means that:

– Saudi Arabia now has nine points compared to Singapore’s three. Both teams have two games left.

– Saudi Arabia has a goal tally now of 8-5 (eight scored and five conceded ). Singapore has a tally of 5-10.

In other words, Singapore has to score NINE goals or more in their last two matches and hope for a Saudi Arabia defeat by Uzbekistan.

It also means that national coach Raddy Avramovic will now probably have to abandon his usual conservative style of tight, controlling football for a more swashbuckling and attacking approach in Singapore’s last two games.

Mission impossible – on paper, almost certainly. But hey, stranger things have happened in football, no?

I mean, did we actually expect Singapore to hold Uzbekistan to a scoreless draw for 80 minutes yesterday? After all, some betting sites were actually predicting a 3-1 or 4-1 win for the Uzbeks.

Can Singapore beat Saudi Arabia? I don’t see why not but it’s going to be very difficult, for certain.

But not impossible.

Just remember this: the Lions have home advantage this time, they will be boosted by the narrow loss to Uzbekistan and hopefuly, they will be able to do it with 40,000 fans, all dressed in red, cheering them on this Saturday.

Most importantly, they will know that this will be the do-or-die game and that they will have to go for broke, no ifs and buts about it.

That is why I am really looking forward to the clash this Saturday – it would really be interesting to see what sort of changes the usually conservative Avramovic will make to give the Lions a more attacking bent.

Will the surly Serb – gasp – do a Kevin Keegan, go for broke and field three strikers?

Will Qiu Li, still a relatively unknown quantity on the international stage, who looked impressive in the 3-7 loss to Uzbekisan but was practically invisible in the return match yesterday, be fielded alongside Khairul Amri, his former Young Lions strike partner, and either Aleksandar Duric or Indra Sahdan?

Will either of the latter two be left on the bench to provide a fresh pair of legs for the Lions in the later stages of the game? 

And if Singapore can somehow carve out a 2-0 win against the Saudis (again, quite difficult considering that we have never beaten the Gulf side before), then you can expect the Lions to go all out against Lebanon in their final group game.

Here’s hoping then that since Lebanon gave up the right to host its home game against Saudi Arabia because of security concerns, opting to play it in Riyadh instead, it will also do the same and opt to play its final home game at the National Stadium.

Remember too that the Lebanese no longer have anything to play for now that they are out of the running for qualificiation. So that could now have a psychological effect on its players.

Finally, remember too that Singapore could have beaten Lebanon 6-0 when they first met at the National Stadium in February. Alas, wasteful finishing saw us winning 2-0 instead, a result that is now returning to haunt the Lions.

So, we now need the Lions to play the game of their lives against the Saudis and then do it all over again against the Lebanese.

I know all this is teetering on the verge of unrealistic optimism but hey, my rejoinder is this: why write off the Lions now, when there is still a sliver of hope, and especially when this is the time when they will need home support the most?

It’s going to be fun to watch and it will be this heady emotional mix of hope and blind faith that will be driving me to the National Stadium next Saturday to cheer on the Lions. After all, isn’t this what being a Singapore fan is all about? Isn’t this what getting behind your team really means?

Man, I can’t wait.

Yours in sport

Singapore Sports Fan         

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