SINGAPORE - For all their improvement under new coach Tatsuma Yoshida, one of the biggest change among the Lions has been a mental one.
There is no longer an inferiority complex when facing stronger teams, captain Hariss Harun told The Straits Times on Tuesday (Nov 19) night in Bahrain, after Singapore had claimed a shock 2-1 win over Yemen in their World Cup Qualifier.
The midfielder added: "We don't need to fear Middle Eastern or central Asian teams anymore. As you can see from our past few matches, we now have the belief to go and try to beat them, even away.
"Even in the recent friendly against Asian champions Qatar (which the Lions lost 2-0 in Doha), we created chances and had we scored, we might have changed the course of the game.
"Coach Yoshida has allowed us to express ourselves and have a go at them. Every team have their own weaknesses and if we try to attack them, we can have a chance to score and beat them.
"If we want to achieve something and be successful, we have to carry on with this mentality."
Evidence of this conviction could be seen in Singapore's second goal. Winger Hafiz Nor, who was making just his sixth senior appearance at the age of 31, scored with a fine curling effort shortly after half-time. It was his first international goal and he credited it to Yoshida's faith in him.
Hafiz said: "When I got the ball, the only thing in my mind was to beat the player and go for a shot; that was what coach told me to do in training and I am happy I did it.
"We did pretty well and followed the game-plan; we played as a team and won as a team. Playing against Middle Eastern opposition is not easy, but we achieved the victory and everyone is very happy about it."
The match was played at a neutral venue, the Al Muharraq Stadium due to the ongoing civil war back in Yemen.
The Republic, missing key players Faris Ramli, Shakir Hamzah and Shawal Anuar, had taken a shock lead thanks to Ikhsan Fandi's volley in the 19th minute.
Despite Yemen's relentless attacks - they are ranked 141th and 18 places higher than Singapore - the defence, led by the excellent Irfan Fandi and Safuwan Baharudin, held firm.
With the three points, Singapore hauled themselves off the foot of the five-team Group D to third place with seven points from five games, two behind leaders Uzbekistan who beat Palestine 2-0, and one behind Saudi Arabia.
The Lions next qualifier is away at Palestine next March.
They will travel there filled with confidence. After all, prior to the Yemen win, Singapore had not registered a win, or even scored more than once against Middle Eastern or central Asian opponents on away or neutral venues in 22 attempts.
They managed just 10 goals while conceding 58, and their last such victory was in June 2008 when they beat Lebanon 2-1 in Beirut.
Yoshida said: "The result may be a surprise for some people, but not for me because the boys have shown good attitude and I trust them.
"We showed we could win without some important players, the rest of the team proved that they can do it. This was one of the best performances since I took over, but we are not at our best yet.
"We are still improving and we will try to move up another level. Today, we are really happy with the win, but tomorrow we will look for new players and prepare for the next match.
"We must always try to win against every opponent, anywhere we play, and keep going even if we make mistakes along the way."