When the final whistle blew, a chorus of boos echoed throughout the National Stadium, drowning out the applause from a select few of the Singapore faithful. It was abundantly clear that Singaporean fans were disappointed by the national team’s performance against Thailand. With eleven changes made by Thailand head coach Alexandré ‘Mano’ Pölking, there was considerable belief that Singapore could walk away with a positive result. After all, most of the starting eleven were fringe players that barely had a handful of international caps under their belt. By contrast, Singapore fielded a considerably strong starting eleven. Yet, while the game was there for the taking, the Lions failed to capitalize on chances and eventually lost 2-0 to the War Elephants.
Two First Half Goals Was All It Took
The Lions have demonstrated how dangerous they can be from set pieces during this tournament but it was Thailand that scored the first goal from a set-piece. Bordin Phala’s breathtaking effort from a 31st-minute freekick forced Singapore custodian Hassan Sunny to stretch beyond his limits to try and dive to save the curling shot. Phala’s strike was destined for the top corner but Hassan managed to get a hand to it and tip it towards the woodwork. Unfortunately, the ball bounced off the goal post and landed in front of Swedish-born Thai international Elias Dolah. Dolah’s simple tap saw the ball bounce into the back of the net and it marked his first international goal in what was only his fourth-ever appearance for the War Elephants. Hassan should be given due credit for his phenomenal save but he did not have any help from his defenders. The Singapore custodian was left helpless against Dolah, who was simply at the right place and time to give Thailand the lead.
The second goal came during stoppage time in the first half and certainly was a sucker punch to the Lions’ morale before they headed into the tunnel. Supachai Chaided found space between the Lions’ defence and after receiving the ball from Worachit Kanitsribampen, he used his pace and sprinted away from Zulfahmi Arifin to easily slot home the War Elephants’ second goal with a low driven shot that whizzed past Hassan Sunny.
Shakir Hamzah has been a key figure for the Lions for the past few fixtures and his injury mere minutes after the first whistle was a significant factor in the Lions’ display. Many veteran players were careless in their passes and the team did seem disjointed at times.The gulf in quality was apparent. It may have been Thailand’s “B” team per se, but they turned up.
Not Pep Guardiola, But Tatsuma Yoshida
Yet, the rather abrupt and emotional response that Tatsuma Yoshida gave during the post-match press conference probably made me reflect on a number of things.
For abit of context, Tatsuma initially commented on how he thought that the Singapore national team had played. However, when he was asked about the fans’ visible and clearly audible frustration when the final whistle blew, he became rather emotional.
“I am working for Singapore football and [the fans, media and the team] have to work together.”
Yoshida wanted to remind the press to keep things in perspective. He stated how the team has finally qualified for the first time in nine years despite losing their last game before the semi-finals. He also mentioned that were he Pep Guardiola, it would have been a different story but he is Tatsuma Yoshida, a manager from Japan. Nevertheless, he asserted that he loves Singapore and is proud of what the team has accomplished thus far.
In a wavering voice, he then urged for Singaporeans to place their faith behind the national team and that the lack of support is deeply upsetting before abruptly ending the post-match conference – clearly overcome with emotion.
Tatsuma’s response ignited an introspective inquiry. The Japanese head coach made some really strong points. However, let’s not kid ourselves here. Singapore football is a work in progress and we need to be realistic about our national team’s chances of winning the competition. Dreaming and having ambitions is a truly wonderful thing. However, careless dreaming and lofty goals only hurt us more when targets are not achieved.
While many football fans expect their teams to win, I think it is essential to keep things in perspective. Perhaps, celebrating the fact that we managed to qualify for the knockout stages is important. Between 2012 and 2019, prior to Tatsuma’s appointment, Singapore football had fallen. Scratch that. It hit new lows altogether – quite literally since our FIFA ranking was the lowest in 2017 when we were placed in the 173rd spot.
These are hard truths we need to come to terms with. Essentially, we are no longer a strong footballing nation and have not been the past decade or so. We need to accept that our standards have drastically dipped and a series of good performances will not change things overnight. Instead, there needs to be sustained progress.
Yes, some of us have waited for years but have failed to see anything materialise. Under Bernd Stange, V. Sundramoorthy, and Fandi Ahmad, we had limited development, if any at all. However, under Yoshida, we are achieving tangible results. Perhaps it’s our incessant need to expect immediate results as a society that led countless in attendance to boo the national team. Progress takes time and often, a darn long time at that. In many ways, it’s perhaps how the typical Singaporean has been socially engineered to never settle for less. If we truly do care about our football, we need to be aware and mindful of the bigger picture here. Under Yoshida, we have made progress and we need to give him time for more tangible developments to come to fruition.
Personally, I think qualification to the 2034 World Cup is a realistic target. Although we have a real shot of reaching this goal, we must realise that we are in the building block stages and our support for the national team setup matters now more than ever. Let’s keep things in perspective.
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