“Singapore” and “World Cup”. They’re not exactly like peanut butter and chocolate, are they?
It was 1998, when then PM Goh Chok Tong, during his National Day Rally speech, set a goal and objective for Singapore to be in the 2010 World Cup. 17 years later, not only are we past the 2010 World Cup, we have even seen the 2014 edition of it come and go. So why weren’t we invited to the party?
To be fair, some of us did make it. Local referee Shamsul Maidin was selected by FIFA to be an official in World Cup 2006.
And then we had the breakthrough star of 2014, this guy.
Comparison 2010 and 2015
On a more serious note, in comparison to our world ranking of 140 in 2010, we have dropped to 157th at present day. (Our highest ever was 75 in 1993 and lowest, 165 in 2013). This makes us only the 28th highest ranked team in Asia. Considering the fact that only 4 or 5 slots are available for Asian teams in the World Cup, our future is probably as bleak as the view out of your window.
However, there is a silver lining.
Many people do not know that this time round, the World Cup Qualifiers (WCQ) doubles up as the AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers (ACQ) too. Despite this, the media advertises the campaign as just the WCQ, without mention of the ACQ, which might leave some fans confused, intimidated, or not get behind the team, since they might think of the World Cup as a lost cause.
What is the AFC Asian Cup?
The AFC Asian Cup is a continental tournament held once every four years, competed by teams from Asia. It is the Asian equivalent of Europe’s EURO, or the Copa America of South America.
Traditionally, only 16 teams (out of 47) qualify for the Asian Cup. For the upcoming 2019 Asian Cup though, 24 teams can qualify. This gives Singapore a fighting chance to make it to a continental level competition for the first time since 1984. (Singapore qualified automatically as host in 1984).
By the end of this “WCQ” campaign, we will find out which 4/5 Asian teams qualify for the World Cup and also, which 24 teams qualify for the Asian Cup. It is a competition that Singapore should be aiming to compete in.
How are we doing so far?
After a dismal 2014 AFF Suzuki Cup campaign, the Lions seem to have bounced back in the WCQ/ACQ. where we have been grouped with Japan, Syria, Afghanistan and Cambodia in the second round.
After 1 win, 1 draw, and 1 loss, Singapore is now 3rd in Group E:
The Lions are amongst a total of 40 teams divided into 8 groups of 5, where by the end of this round:
1st = winners of group are ensured a place in Asian Cup,
2nd = 4 best runners up ensured a place in Asian Cup / remaining 4 go into ACQ third round,
3rd = go into ACQ third round,
4th = 4 best 4th placed teams fo into ACQ third round / remaining 4 into ACQ play-off round,
5th = into ACQ play-off round,
** the 4 best runners up and 4 best 4th placed teams are ranked according to points accumulated.
A detailed explanation of the qualifying process can be found here.
Yes, the procedure is rather confusing, but to break it down simply: 1st place would give us immediate qualification to the Asian Cup, but is an impractical target as it would inevitably be Japan’s to take. The 2nd spot is reachable but only barely. The 4th and 5th spots on the other hand, would mean we are underachieving.
3rd place, where we are now, is a realistic goal and puts us in a good position to qualify.
Highlights of past fixtures
The Lions started with a clinical 4-0 victory over Cambodia (41st in Asia).
And then the now famous 0-0 shut-out of Japan (3rd in Asia) happened in Saitama.
Izwan Mahbud‘s goalkeeping heroics did not go unnoticed.
Not by superstar Keisuke Honda,
or Japan national team head coach Vahid Halilhodžić.
The Singapore custodian also received interest from J-League club, Matsumoto Yamaga
Most recently the Lions narrowly lost 0-1, away to Syria (15th in Asia).
Spectators of the game would argue that the Lions deserved at least a draw for their performance, with several attempts on target and striker Khairul Amri hitting the post near the end of the game.
Why are the Afghanistan and Cambodia games in October so important?
With 3 games down, we have 5 more to go, spanning until March 2016.
8 Oct 2015 – Singapore vs Afghanistan
13 Oct 2015 – Singapore vs Cambodia
12 Nov 2015 – Singapore vs Japan
17 Nov 2015 – Singapore vs Syria
29 Mar 2016 – Afghanistan vs Singapore
Our next 2 matches come very soon, on 8 Oct vs Afghanistan and 13 Oct vs Cambodia. Both matches will be played at home, at the National Stadium, Kallang.
Although Afghanistan are ranked 19th in Asia, they have suffered heavy 6-0 defeats to both Japan and Syria, while Singapore have given those teams a run for their money. On current form, Singapore should be the better team and take the three points.
Likewise, Cambodia are considered the minnows of the group, so a routine victory should be expected of the Lions.
Should we end the second week of October winning both these teams, we would have accumulated 10 points in total, with 3 more matches to play.
This means that even if we lose all 3 of our remaining matches after that, mathematically, Cambodia stand no more chance of catching up to us.
Afghanistan on the other hand, can still surpass us with a total of 12 points to play for. However, they would have to stage upsets in return legs against Syria, Japan and also Singapore. While not impossible, this is very unlikely.
This is why the two upcoming matches in October could prove to be momentous for Singapore football. Win them, and we have a solid chance of finishing 3rd in the group. Coupled with the fact that both matches will be played at home, local football fans should be getting behind the team!
Can we finish any higher than 3rd?
3rd placing is the realistic target. 2nd spot could have been more attainable had we drawn Syria away.
Nevertheless, the Lions can still attempt to defeat Syria on home soil in November. They’ve done it before, they can do it again.
Why look towards the AFC Asian Cup?
In the past two decades, the Singapore national team have already established themselves as a regional powerhouse in Southeast Asia, alongside Thailand.
Naturally, the next step forward from the ASEAN region, would be to play with the big boys of Asia in a prestigious competition such as the AFC Asian Cup. Yet, the event is often overlooked by both the local media and fans.
We have proved that we can conquer Southeast Asia, but for how much longer are we going to be content with just regional honours or even Malaysian titles. Perhaps it is time to move forward, and that is to put more emphasis towards qualifying for the Asian Cup.
Once we are able to rub shoulders with the best in Asia, maybe then would we realize that the World Cup isn’t such a distant dream any more.
Support your National Team this October! To purchase tickets to the home games against Afghanistan and Cambodia, visit sportshub.com.sg