Football: Lions count on brick wall against Syria in World Cup qualifying group game

Singapore, with defender Baihakki Khaizan (right) in action against Qatar's Sebastian Soria, showed their defensive mettle in the first half before fatigue sapped them in the second half. The Lions eventually lost 0-4 in the friendly in Doha last Fri
Singapore, with defender Baihakki Khaizan (right) in action against Qatar's Sebastian Soria, showed their defensive mettle in the first half before fatigue sapped them in the second half. The Lions eventually lost 0-4 in the friendly in Doha last Friday but the game, more importantly, gave the players a taste of the playing styles of Middle Eastern teams before the Syria clash.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Bernd Stange
Bernd Stange

Clean sheet crucial in defining S'pore's chances in match against Syria tonight

Two matches into their 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign, the Singapore national football team are in pole position in Group E, helped largely by a solid back four and a goalkeeper who has yet to concede.

It is this brick wall - responsible for two consecutive clean sheets - that will be relied upon when the Lions look to come away with a point against Syria tonight. The game will be played in Muscat, Oman.

Singapore top Group E after collecting four points from their first two matches. They are a point ahead of Syria and Afghanistan and three in front of powerhouses Japan, who have a game in hand.

ON FULL ALERT

The result in Japan gives us confidence... But you have to respect the strengths of Syria, who are a good team.

BERND STANGE Singapore coach

  • LIVE TELECAST

  • SYRIA v SINGAPORE

    MediaCorp okto and Singtel TV Ch109, 11.55pm

Centre-back Madhu Mohana knows that only a clean sheet will do tonight. "It is really important that we do not concede against Syria," said the LionsXII player.

"If we don't concede, we will not lose so we are hoping to take at least a point out of this game and stay top of the table.

"We have to stick to the game plan and all of us here are eager to bring home a good result."

Madhu was part of the backline that defended valiantly in the 0-0 draw against Japan in June. The others were goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud, centre-back Baihakki Khaizan, right-back Nazrul Nazari and left-back Shaiful Esah.

The same quintet are expected to be fielded to stop the Syrians, who are on a seven-match unbeaten run since losing to Jordan 1-2 last March. Syria also started its Group E campaign with a 6-0 hammering of Afghanistan.

Lions coach Bernd Stange believes that the draw against Japan had given his team a tremendous boost ahead of the Syria game.

He said: "It's not every day that an underdog can get a draw in Japan and in front of almost 60,000 fans.

"The result in Japan gives us confidence and we know the way to play. But you have to respect the strengths of Syria, who are a good team. You can never play for a draw and we will try to achieve a result (against Syria)."

In their last 10 matches against Middle East opponents since 2010, the Lions have emerged winners only once. They beat Syria 2-1 in an Asian Cup qualifier in 2013 at the Jalan Besar Stadium.

Winger Gabriel Quak, who scored the winner that night, believes that lightning can strike twice, albeit at a different venue.

"We know that we stand a good chance now to qualify because of the previous two results. We have beaten Syria before, so we are confident going there," he said.

On June 11, Stange's men started their campaign by thumping Cambodia in a 4-0 win in front of 63,000 supporters in Phnom Penh.

Five days later, the Lions held Japan to a 0-0 draw before a 57,533-strong crowd when Izwan made headlines with 18 saves.

Last Friday, the Lions' dogged defensive display was on show again. But fatigue got the better of them as they conceded four goals in 23 minutes in the second-half to lose 0-4 to Qatar in a friendly.

"It was good that we played a Middle Eastern team before we took on Syria because it gives us a taste of the playing style in this region," Madhu said. "We did really well in the first half but in the second half, we left gaps behind and Qatar took advantage of that."

The 2018 World Cup qualifiers will also double up as the 2019 Asian Cup qualifiers.

The eight group winners and four best runners-up of the second round of the 2018 World Cup qualifiers will advance to the third round.

These teams will also qualify for the 2019 Asian Cup.

Singapore's only appearance at the continental finals was in 1984 when they qualified automatically as hosts.

There is also extra intrigue tonight as Stange's future is likely to be decided after the game. The Straits Times reported last week that the Football Association of Singapore could extend the German's contract by six months if the Lions avoided a heavy defeat by Syria.

WATCH IT LIVE: Syria v Singapore (Fifa World Cup 2018 Group E qualifier)

Channels: MediaCorp’s Okto channel and Singtel TV’s Eleven (Singtel TV Channel 109).

Time: 11.55pm Thursday (Sept 3)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 03, 2015, with the headline 'Lions count on brick wall'. Print Edition | Subscribe