Football: Qatar the litmus test for Lions

Japan midfielder Keisuke Honda (centre, in blue) launches one of several unsuccessful attacks against Singapore during the dramatic 0-0 draw in the World Cup qualifier in Saitama, Japan on June 16. Head coach Bernd Stange will rely heavily on a simil
Japan midfielder Keisuke Honda (centre, in blue) launches one of several unsuccessful attacks against Singapore during the dramatic 0-0 draw in the World Cup qualifier in Saitama, Japan on June 16. Head coach Bernd Stange will rely heavily on a similar game plan in the Middle East.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Lessons from Japan draw to lift Lions for Doha friendly, Cup qualifier against Syria

Singapore's record against Middle Eastern football teams does not make for pretty reading, but if ever there were a time to improve the dismal statistics, it will be during the next two fixtures.

Tonight, the Lions (ranked 155th in the world) face Qatar (95th) in an international friendly at the Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium in Doha before they travel to Muscat, Oman to battle Syria (117th) in a crucial World Cup qualifier on Sept 3.

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

In the process, they have shipped 30 goals and scored a mere seven.

Coach Bernd Stange, who has previously helmed the likes of Iraq and Oman, feels that the quality of the league the players compete in and a matter of belief is what sets teams from the Middle East and Singapore apart.

SELF-BELIEF A BIG STUMBLING BLOCK

Most players (here) don't believe in their strengths. They always feel they are second best. That is the wrong mentality.

BERND STANGE, Singapore head coach

ANALYSING THE DIFFERENCE

There is a huge gap in quality between South-east Asian teams and the teams in the Middle East... what Singapore have is the strength of a unit - the ability to fight for one another.

HASSAN SUNNY, Singapore goalkeeper

"The players in Middle East countries are technically very good because they play at a high level every week," said the German.

"The leagues in Iraq and Oman are very professional. There are 30,000 supporters in matches and that is good for the players.

"It is another level compared to the S-League or the Malaysia Super League (MSL).

"Most players (here) don't believe in their strengths. They always feel they are second best. That is the wrong mentality."

Goalkeeper Hassan Sunny, who plays in the Thai Premier League with Army United, conceded that Middle Eastern sides were far superior but felt that teams like Singapore still had their own strengths.

"There is a huge gap in quality between South-east Asian teams and the teams in the Middle East," said the custodian.

"They are very aggressive and quick. Technically, they are far better as well.

"What Singapore have is the strength of a unit - the ability to fight for one another."

Qatar, who will host the 2022 World Cup, are heavily favoured tonight but Hassan, 31, wants his team-mates to treat the match as a qualifier.

"If we can get a good result against Qatar, it would bode well for us against Syria," he said.

Stange will be calling on the blueprint that yielded success in the Lions' last outing - June's landmark 0-0 draw against Asian giants Japan in another World Cup qualifier.

"Qatar are definitely the better team. We need a good defensive shape and to hit them on the counter.

"The game plan will be similar to how we played against Japan."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 28, 2015, with the headline 'QATAR THE LITMUS TEST FOR LIONS'. Print Edition | Subscribe