Football: Lions to face Kyrgyzstan, Myanmar and Tajikistan in Asian Cup qualifiers

To prepare for the Asian Cup qualifiers, the Lions are expected to play friendly matches in March. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

SINGAPORE - The Lions were handed a kind draw on Thursday (Feb 24) for the third round qualifiers of next year's Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Asian Cup.

World No. 161 Singapore are in Group F alongside Kyrgyzstan (96th), Tajikistan (115th) and Myanmar (152nd), having avoided heavyweights Uzbekistan (85th), Bahrain (89th) and Jordan (90th).

The qualifiers, played in a single round-robin format, will be held between June 8-14 in centralised venues due to the pandemic. Previously it was contested in a home-and-away format.

The six group winners and five best second-placed teams will join 13 already-qualified sides for the main tournament, held in China next year.

The Republic's sole appearance at the continent' flagship men's tournament came in 1984 as hosts.

They open their campaign on June 8 against hosts Kyrgyzstan in the capital of Bishkek. Both countries last met in an international friendly last November, which the Central Asian side won 2-1.

A month later at the Suzuki Cup, the Lions beat Myanmar 3-0 in the group stage en route to reaching the semi-finals.

Tajikistan are less familiar opponents to Singapore. They have met twice previously, during the 2010 World Cup qualifiers held in Nov 2007. Singapore won 2-0 at home and claimed a 1-1 away draw.

Veteran goalkeeper Hassan Sunny, 37, said: "Qualifiers are never easy. We have played Kyrgyzstan recently and we know how tough they can be. They are hosting these qualifiers as well so they will be up for it. Tajikistan and Myanmar are good teams as well. We want to show the kind of attitude we showed at the Suzuki Cup and have a good qualifying campaign.

"At the moment, we don't know who our head coach is but I am sure whoever comes in will get us ready for these matches. As national players, we are looking forward to it."

The Lions are still without a national coach after Japanese Tatsuma Yoshida 's contract was mutually terminated on Dec 31 last year. The Football Association of Singapore had targeted an appointment by mid-March.

To prepare for the Asian Cup qualifiers, the Lions are expected to play friendly matches in March.

The Football Association of Malaysia announced on Feb 17 that it will take on Singapore and Philippines on March 23 and March 26 respectively.

It is understood that the three teams will compete in a triangular tournament held at the National Stadium here.

Lions captain Hariss Harun said: "We are all looking forward to resuming competitive action in June as the stakes are high and we have not qualified for a long time.

"The matches will come thick and fast; the most important thing is to have a top mentality and give it our best shot. It will be huge for Singapore football if we can pull it off and we have to try and push ourselves."

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