Football: Lions' Asian Cup qualification hopes all but over after another defeat

The Lions lost 1-0 to Tajikistan on June 11, 2022. PHOTO: FOOTBALL ASSOCIATION OF SINGAPORE/FACEBOOK

SINGAPORE - Takayuki Nishigaya, three matches into his reign as Lions head coach, apologised to Singapore football fans on Saturday (June 11) after the Republic's hopes of a historic qualification to the 2023 Asian Cup came to an end.

World No. 158 Singapore suffered a second straight loss in the qualifiers at the Dolen Omuzakov Stadium in Bishkek.

This time, they lost 1-0 to 114th-ranked Tajikistan. On Wednesday, they had fallen 2-1 to Kyrgyzstan.

Nishigaya, 49, said: "We are very disappointed to not be able to qualify. I'm sorry for Singapore football fans. The players have shown commitment and (good) performances during the two matches but we missed a lot of chances."

Tajikistan, who previously beat Myanmar 4-0, now lead Group F with six points from two matches.

Hosts Kyrgyzstan registered a 2-0 win over Myanmar to take them to six points, behind Tajikistan on goal difference. This means Singapore, who face Myanmar on Tuesday, can finish no better than third in the four-team group.

The six group winners and five best second-placed teams will advance to next year's Finals.

Singapore's sole appearance was in 1984 as hosts and the wait continues.

The wait also continues for Nishigaya, who was appointed in April, as he seeks his first victory as Lions coach after three games in charge. His first was a 2-0 loss to Kuwait in an international friendly earlier this month.

But the Japanese coach believes the team are on the right track despite failing to qualify.

He said: "Players understand what I demand of them and, with more time, we will get better. Overall I am satisfied with the performances.

"The players have shown they can compete against teams of higher ranking. We must try to continue what we are doing. We created a lot of chances.

"If we are going to continue this way, we will be able to achieve something. Please believe the boys and my team."

Meanwhile, veteran goalkeeper Hassan Sunny expressed his frustration at his team's failure to convert their chances.

He said: "If you are not ruthless in front of goal, you will not score. We could have got three or four today. Everybody is disappointed but we have to look forward now to our last game and try to finish on a high."

The Lions, as they did against Kyrgyzstan, created several chances but failed to make them count. Only two minutes had passed when Ikhsan Fandi was played through by Shah Shahiran but skewed his shot wide.

In the 32nd minute, Nazrul Nazri found himself in the box with time and space to pick out his teammates. But he fired straight into the arms of the opposition goalkeeper.

Singapore were duly punished eight minutes into the second half when Mukhammadzhon Rahimov's cross from the left flank was turned in by Shervoni Mabatshoev just in front of Hassan.

The Lions thought they had rescued a point in the 76th minute when Safuwan Baharudin's header at the far post was turned in by Ikhsan, only for the referee to rule it out for offside.


In both matches in these qualifiers, the Lions have shown what new head coach Nishigaya wants of them. Under the Japanese tactician, there is a greater emphasis on aggressive pressing higher up the pitch whilst being quicker in attacking transitions.

The players have been able to do it, albeit not for the full 90 minutes. Against Kyrgyzstan, it was clear that the players had run out of steam by the 70th minute. The Lions had led till the 76th minute before succumbing to two goals.

Similarly, the Lions looked sharp in the first-half but were a shadow of themselves in the second period. By the hour mark, there was not much resistance as Tajikistan were able to create chance after chance.

Given the short time he has had to work with the squad, questions will be raised if Nishigaya's high-octane approach for the qualifiers was the best fit.

Football is a game of 90 minutes and till Nishigaya and his side learn that, a win will continue to elude them against the better teams in Asia.

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