Singapore’s World Cup qualification dreams finally came to an end last Saturday when it lost 0-2 to Saudi Arabia. You can read the report here.
Now that the dust has settled on Singapore’s 0-2 loss to Saudi Arabia at the National Stadium on Saturday (14 June), which effectively ended our World Cup dreams, I thought I’d just share some thoughts which I’ve been mulling over these past two days.
Actually, even tthough I was disappointed by the result, I wasn’t too perturbed by the fact that only 22,000 fans turned up at the National Stadium, that we could not mark our last game at the National Stadium with a win and that it was, by and large, a lacklustre display by the Lions on home soil.
Let’s face it – the average Singapore football fan is a pragmatic person. He is no die-hard and he will only turn up at the Stadium if Singapore stands a strong chance of winning the game.
He probably assessed the odds for the Singapore-Saudi Arabia game and decided it was going to be a lost cause for the Lions. Besides, the game was being shown live on Channel 5.
If you think having a 22,000-strong crowd is poor, cast your mind back to the 1993 South-east Asia Games which were held here.
About 60,000 fans turned up at Kallang to watch Singapore take on Myanmar in the football semi-finals – and suffered heartbreak as Myanmar turned Singapore’s 2-0 lead into a 3-3 draw before winning 5-4 on penalties.
Subsequently, only 2,000 fans turned up at Kallang to cheer the Lions to a 3-1 win over Indonesia in the bronze medal play-offs. Can you imagine how depressing the terraces must have looked – or how demoralised the Lions must have been?
So, to have 22,000 fans turn up for a mission almost-impossible encounter against Saudi Arabia, is to me, a very encouraging sign. It means that the number of Lion die-hards has grown over the years. And this can only augur well for the state of Singapore football spectatorship.
To the second point: was it a lacklustre performance? In a way.
But it was more clearly obvious that Singapore was outclassed by an extremely skillful Saudi side who controlled possession and dominated the match so much that our players found themselves on the backfoot and run ragged for most of the 90 minutes.
But what does this really reveal about the state of Singapore football?
Simply this: as I said in my previous posting, after our 3-7 loss to Uzbekistan, we may be the kings of South-east Asian football, but we still have a long way to go if we want to be among the top 10 footballing nations in Asia.
Check out this Wikipedia entry on the national team ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Singapore_national_football_team ):
“Although Singapore is widely regarded as a minnow in the international footballing arena, the national team has ground out quite a few upset results and have made it hard for many away teams in recent years. In the 2007 Asian Cup qualifiers, for example, Singapore became the only team to beat Iraq enroute to their Asian Cup winning campaign. Singapore and also drew with China 0-0 at home in 2006. China also narrowly escaped with a 1-0 victory in Tianjin thanks to a last minute penalty. Japan, Uruguay, Denmark and Saudi Arabia have also come away with narrow 2-1 wins in recent times. In September 2007, Singapore almost took the scalp of Gulf Cup champions, UAE but a late equaliser prevented a win for the Lions. In March 2008, Australia became the latest victim when they failed to beat Singapore when the game ended in a goalless draw.”
To use a European footballing analogy, Singapore is currently like Finland (or Wales), occasionally capable of grinding out narrow wins or draws but usually out of its depth against top ranking countries like Holland, Portugal, Italy, Germany etc.
What must national coach Raddy Avramovic do to move the Lions to the next level so as to compete with the likes of Japan, South Korea, Bahrain, Iran, Uzbekistan and Saudi Arabia?
But seriously, what can he really do with the sort of talent and resources he has at his disposal?
I mean, for goodness sake, to improve our striking power, Avramovic had to draft in Aleksandar Duric, who is already 37 years old but remains a perennial top scorer in the S-League.
No offence to Duric, but what does that say about the standards of the S-League, or for that matter, the quality of local talent available to the Serb?
For that matter, some of our current Lions are clearly not capable of competing beyond a certain level on the international stage.
Here’s another point to ponder: what do you, the Singapore fan, want to see in our quest for Asian-level excellence?
Are you prepared to see Avramovic draft in more foreign talents-turned-naturalised citizens into the team, thereby changing an already slightly uncomfortable 6:5 local-foreign talent ratio?
If you cannot stomach the idea of seeing more Caucasian, African or Chinese (as in China-born) faces in the first 11 line-up, and if the Football Association of Singapore is well aware of such sensitivities, then one has to accept that Singapore football can only progress up to a certain level.
Can you accept that? As it is, how do you feel supporting the current national badminton (made up of Indonesia and China-born players) and table tennis teams ( all China-born )? Don’t you ever get a sense of a hollow victory whenever they win something on the international stage?
As a Singapore football fan, I am prepared to accept the Lions as they are now. Any more foreign talent drafts, and I think I will be turned off. And as such, I am prepared to live with the fact that we will never be able to compete with the top-10 nations in Asia.
I don’t really care for the Asean Championships anymore. I think we’ve proven that we are beyond that level.
Now, if Singapore can – with its current local-foreign player ratio – now start qualifying regularly for the Asian Cup and continue to improve on its World Cup Asian zone qualifying record, I will be happy.
Yours in Sport
Singapore Sports Fan
P.s: Props to goalkeeper Hassan Sunny and midfielder John Wilkinson. I think they were our two best players against Saudi Arabia. Hassan saved us from a mauling with his superb reflex saves while Wilkinson was a role model in terms of industry, hard work and fighting spirit.
(Note: Picture of Lions taken from www.fas.org.sg)