Singapore can qualify for World Cup by hosting it

Singapore football fans showing their support for the Lions during the Singapore-Japan Group E World Cup qualifier.
Singapore football fans showing their support for the Lions during the Singapore-Japan Group E World Cup qualifier.PHOTO: ST FILE

The local football community appears to have missed an absolute sitter amid its bewilderment over Football Association of Singapore vice-president Edwin Tong's assessment that it is realistic for our national team to aim for World Cup qualification in 2034.

Singapore can qualify for its first World Cup finals as host, just like Qatar in 2022, assuming that three to four places out of the eight slots for Asian teams go to Asean members for hosting the tournament.

This tactical bet is the biggest move that we can make with our Asean neighbours to send the first South-east Asian teams through to the biggest sporting showcase on earth, which is something I suggested two years ago (Fifa World Cup 2034: S'pore, Asean neighbours should launch joint bid, July 10, 2017)

It would be a catalyst to raise the game to new strategic heights across the region, just as it has done for Qatar.

No host would want to risk humiliation on home soil in front of several billion spectators across the globe.

But the bigger priority now is for Asean to secure hosting rights to the World Cup in 2034.

The ball is firmly in the court of the region's football governing bodies to work out the finer details of the bid, especially where to host the games and how to select the representatives should the bid be successful.

I remain of the view that the matches should be held in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand due to their infrastructural advantages and close proximity to one another.

However, Asean's representatives should be selected based on their performances in a freshly conceived annual league over a period of five years, up till a year before 2034.

This Asean National Team Football League would also be an excellent curtain raiser for regional fans ahead of the 2034 World Cup, and could be sustained to grow the game across South-east Asia thereafter.

Toh Cheng Seong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 02, 2019, with the headline 'Singapore can qualify for World Cup by hosting it'. Print Edition | Subscribe