Football: Lions aim to end 7-game losing run against Bahrain

Singapore will start their 2019 Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Asian Cup qualifying campaign tonight against Bahrain - and an away draw would be seen as a decent result.

The hosts, ranked 127th in the Fifa world, are not only the top-seeded team in Group E, but they have also beaten Singapore in all seven of their previous meetings.

In their most recent contest just last September, they won 3-1 in an international friendly.

Without revealing much of his strategy, national coach V. Sundramoorthy said: "Bahrain are a strong team and we will approach the game tactically... based on our own game plan."

National vice-captain Hariss Harun is aware that Bahrain would present a greater challenge for them than Afghanistan, who beat Singapore 2-1 in a friendly last Thursday in Doha.

He said of their opponents tonight at the Bahrain National Stadium in Riffa: "They are more physical and it is a much tougher game. We played them last year, and we know that they keep the ball well and they like to attack us with pace.

Hariss Harun, captain for the friendly against Afghanistan last week in Doha, challenging Faysal Shayesteh in the 1-2 loss. He says that although a point will be great against Bahrain tonight, the team will hope to win.
Hariss Harun, captain for the friendly against Afghanistan last week in Doha, challenging Faysal Shayesteh in the 1-2 loss. He says that although a point will be great against Bahrain tonight, the team will hope to win. PHOTO: THE NEW PAPER

"We've got to be compact and to create good scoring opportunities once we have possession.

"The two goals we conceded in the previous game were mainly because of our own mistakes. We have to put a stop to making errors, and and making it easy for our opponents to get past us."

Sundram's men are eager to win their first competitive game since an unsuccessful campaign at last November's AFF Suzuki Cup, where they exited in the group stage with two losses and one draw.

Thanks to a kind draw, Sundram would surely fancy the Lions' prospects of qualifying for the next Asian Cup, in the United Arab Emirates, for the first time since 1984, when they qualified automatically as hosts.

Besides playing Bahrain, Singapore, ranked 163rd, will also face Turkmenistan (world No. 144) and Chinese Taipei (world No. 159) in the same group, where the top two teams will qualify for the continental competition.

For now, the Lions' immediate task will be to avoid suffering their fourth consecutive loss.

Hariss, 26, said: "Our opponents are ranked higher than us, but who knows? Anything can happen in the game. We will approach the game with a positive mindset and hope for a positive result.

"Obviously we hope to win, but a point will be great too."

In the match against Afghanistan, national coach Sundram tested a new defence partnership between 19-year-old striker-turned-defender Irfan Fandi and utility player Safuwan Baharudin, 25.

Centre-back Irfan could be making his first appearance in a competitive international tonight. His previous two caps were earned in friendlies.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 28, 2017, with the headline 'Lions aim to end 7-game losing run against Bahrain'. Print Edition | Subscribe