Asian Football

Addressing The Singapore National Team Selection

Our recent article featuring an interview with Kenny Poh Yi Feng certainly raised a few eyebrows. While we are grateful for the opportunity to share Kenny’s story, what caught my attention was the number of reposts of his article. Specifically, people were reposting his featured quote:

“You will always think you have a chance but the [national team set up] will always have their own few players [in mind]. Even if that player gets injured, once they recover, they get called up. It isn’t fair to those players who are playing week-in and week-out but yet don’t have a chance to play for the national team.”

Kenny Poh Yifeng

I guess it is no coincidence that the quote was pretty apt, given that the announcement of the national team squad for the upcoming World Cup Qualifiers happened just hours prior. Don’t get me wrong, I am fully behind the national team for their upcoming fixtures and I will stay up late to watch the fixtures live. It is important that we support our national team. At the same time, it is important to provide constructive criticism and highlight issues when they arise because we should never ever settle for the status quo. For Singapore football to succeed, Singaporean fans need to be vocal, albeit in a positive manner, because it shows we care about our team.

I have two thoughts on this issue, which are contrasting. On one hand, can you fault Yoshida? On the other hand, I think he has made a few errors. And as a disclaimer, I do not believe there is any form of objectivity. Everything is subjective and it is important we understand the multiple perspectives on display to form our own understanding. This is simply my perspective.

It’s Tough On Yoshida

Tatsuma Yoshida was appointed as the Singapore national team head coach in 2019 as a man who presents opportunities to those who earned it. His selections represented a stark change to a national team set-up that has earned a reputation of sticking with the same group of players without providing opportunities to others in the league. A slew of Singaporean players earned their national team debuts, including Darren Teh and Iqram Rifqi. Yoshida also handed opportunities to players who previously made debuts but were shunned out of the national team framework for lengthy spells like Firdaus Kasman.

Yet, when the national team selection was announced, fans were in an uproar. Some have also disclosed that they thought Yoshida was the game changer the national team needed – the man who would hand opportunities to Singaporean players who deserve it – but now feel otherwise. I do understand where they come from, but let’s also stop and think if we were in the national team manager’s shoes for a minute.

Just as any other head coach, we want to put on our best display and fight for a favourable result. To do this, you’d probably want to go with your best players – and I mean the best. There is limited room for experimentation, especially since Singapore finds itself in an interesting position where there is the chance we end up as runners up in the group. Is that probable? Well, no. Yet, it is very much possible. As a head coach of a national team that is gunning for serious development as part of the grand scheme to qualify for the 2034 World Cup, you’d do whatever it takes, wouldn’t you?

The issue then arises on who becomes Yoshida’s best XI for the Singapore national team. It becomes an impossible question to answer for a man who has not had the luxury to play any friendly matches throughout 2020. COVID-19 has certainly affected the local footballing landscape with the suspension of the 2020 Singapore Premier League season, but it has been some time since the national team last played. In fact, our last fixture was the 2022 World Cup Qualifier against Yemen, and that took place on 19 November 2019 (exactly 557 days ago when the Lions take on Afghanistan in a friendly on May 29 2021.)

Amidst this backdrop, how is Yoshida best supposed to select his team? Unfortunately, given the stakes at hand, he probably needed to select seasoned national team veterans and/or consistent performers at the club level who fit his style of play. Based on these credentials, he has done largely well with his selection.

Huge props to Yoshida for blooding in Saifullah Akbar and Idraki Adnan into the squad. Given their stellar performances this season, I hope they make their national team debuts and feature in the World Cup qualifying fixtures to some extent.

A Few Questionable Selections and Omissions?

I say largely because I do feel that there are some players who deserve an opportunity over others.

Lionel Tan’s omission from the squad is probably the biggest shock for me. The Hougang United centre-back has had a stellar first half of the season, and after his call up for the March centralized training sessions, I really believed he was going to get the nod.

Another shocker for me was Syazwan Buhari’s omission. The Tampines custodian has had a decent start to the season and while only has 2 clean sheets, has pulled some important saves for the Stags. Izwan Mahbud is arguably our best keeper, but he has been mostly on the bench this season and has zero appearances in 2021. I am not suggesting that Izwan does not deserve a spot in the national team, but it does drive home Kenny’s point that lesser known players that play weekly are neglected.

If anything, it also reinforces this notion that we need to have some standardization of selection criteria. The inclusion of the Young Lions players makes little sense. The Young Lions team sit at the bottom of the league without a win. Despite this, three of their players have been called up to the 26-man squad that flew to Dubai. Perhaps an exception can be made for Hami Syahin. Still, if we consider the fact that no Geylang International nor Tanjong Pagar United players have been called up, then by extension, the Young Lions players should not be called up as well.

I am personally interested in seeing the Fandi brothers play together for the first time. However, is that time now?

In particular, I am kind of disappointed that someone like Amy Recha or Iqbal Hussain was not considered for a national team call-up. Amy Recha, in particular, has been a shining star in a pretty disappointing campaign for Geylang thus far. While Zulqarnean Suzliman has featured for Singapore eleven times thus far and is a star for the future, I truly believe that Lionel Tan deserved a place in the squad over him based on this season’s performances.

Still, I Support and I Urge You To As Well

Regardless of whether I agree or disagree with the decisions made by Tatsuma Yoshida, I do feel that it is important we support the national team. I sincerely wish and hope that the Singapore national team plays well. Do I care about the outcome of the match? Well, not really. I think at this stage, I’ll be more than happy if our boys play their hearts out and put up a strong fight.

And you should too.

Like I mentioned earlier, it has been over 550 days since our National team last played and as Singapore takes the field once again, let us give the boys the support they need.

Majulah Singapura. Together, We Are One Strong.

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