Thoughts on the Syria game
Two days have passed and it seems like my heart is still recovering from what it was put through in the dying minutes of the match against Syria.
There were a few surprises in Bernd Stange’s line-up, which included new boy Christopher van Huizen replacing Faris Ramli, Zulfahmi Arifin in centre midfield and Safuwan Baharudin acting as a make-shift striker.
With Safuwan not being able to roam around in a free-role as he usually does, combined with the fact that Zulfahmi (been playing as a defender all season) wasn’t looking comfortable in midfield, there was an obvious hole in the middle of the park and as usual, the Lions struggled to keep hold of the ball.
Madhu Mohana‘s bewildering red card was supposed to make things worst, but credit to the Lions, they worked hard and kept the score at 1-0 until Kallang public enemy number one, Alaa Al Shibli handled the ball, prompting the referee to award Singapore with an 89th minute penalty.
(Shibli was the victim of Kallang’s fury and verbal abuse all throughout the night after his play-acting antics early in the first half).
Step forward Safuwan to equalize the score for the Lions. The game seemed destined for a draw, but Syria’s striker Omar Kharbin spared Kallang no sympathies, breaking Lions’ hearts at the 93rd minute of play with the winning goal.
Round up of November
These are the highlights of the matches in Group E that were played this month:
Singapore 0 Japan 3
A clinical performance from Japan saw them get revenge over Singapore.
Afghanistan 3 Cambodia 0
2585 spectators were in attendance at neighbouring Iran as Afghanistan defeat Cambodia by 3 goals.
Singapore 1 Syria 2
A lapse in concentration in the dying minutes of the game saw Singapore lose to Syria by 1 goal.
Cambodia 0 Japan 2
The Cambodians were praised by Japan coach Vahid Halilhodzic for a brave performance, but the Samurai Blue ultimately took all 3 points.
The Table As It Stands
Singapore remains at 3rd position in Group E, still with 10 points. Afghanistan trails us by 4 points, but they do have one game in hand. Meanwhile, Japan and Syria extend their lead and it is no longer possible for Singapore to pip Syria to 2nd place.
Chances of Qualification
Everything turned out as expected. Although we would have openly welcomed a draw against Japan or a win against Syria, it was more important to get maximum points in October against Afghanistan and Cambodia, so that we are safe in 3rd place.
Third place ensures us a place in the third round of qualification. (Though technically, 4th and 5th placed teams still have a fighting chance too)
Mathematically, 4th placed Afghanistan can still usurp the Lions, but only if they win both their remaining matches against Japan and us.
One Last Match
29 March 2016 – Afghanistan vs Singapore
Singapore and Afghanistan are set for one final meeting on 29 March 2016.
The results for this match would only matter if Afghanistan produces a shock victory against Japan, five days prior. If not, Singapore’s 3rd place finish is pretty much in the bag even without playing this game.
It would then present Bernd Stange an opportunity to field his fringe players, to give them some valuable experience at international level.
Regardless of what Afghanistan’s results turn out to be, the Lions should be aiming for a win, to keep the morale up for the following round of qualification.
While a draw against Syria would not have made much of a difference to our position in the standings, it was the manner of which it happened, that left a very bad taste in the mouth. After all, nobody likes to concede a last minute goal.
The scenario reminded me of our exit from the 2014 AFF Suzuki Cup, through a 3-1 loss to Malaysia. After Khairul Amri equalised for us in the 83rd minute, Malaysia retaliated with 2 goals deep in stoppage time to silence the National Stadium.
The past two months have been exhilarating, with 4 home matches in a row. It almost felt like a mini Asian Cup by itself. The next international break only comes in March 2016, so until then, let’s hope our Lions continue to prepare themselves well as we fight for a place in UAE 2019.