SINGAPORE - The goals will come, insisted new Singapore coach Takayuki Nishigaya after his first outing with the national team resulted in a 2-0 defeat by Kuwait in an international friendly on Wednesday (June 1).
The 158th-ranked Lions created several chances against their 146th-ranked opponents in the closed-door game at the Al Nahyan Stadium in Abu Dhabi, but they were undone by forward Fahad Alreshidi's header from a corner in the 39th minute and Yousef Alsulaiman's 87th-minute strike, when he rounded Hassan Sunny and slotted in.
This was their final tune-up before the Asian Cup qualifiers. They travel to Bishkek on Friday to play Kyrgyzstan on June 8, Tajikistan (June 11) and Myanmar (June 14).
The Lions are bidding to qualify for their first Asian Cup since 1984, when Singapore made the event as host. The six group winners and five best runners-up will advance to the continental showpiece next year.
Said Nishigaya, 49: "We created a lot of chances in the match and I was happy to see that. But we know that we have to score.
"I believe in our strikers, that if we are able to get chances (during the qualifiers) as we did today, that they can get us our goals. I am confident."
Singapore have been goal-shy when up against Middle Eastern and central Asian sides.
In their last 10 matches against such opponents dating back to October 2019, they have scored only four goals. Including the latest result, they have come away with just one win, a draw and eight losses.
But Nishigaya was pleased that his men were at least creating chances. He noted that the team carried out his instructions to press high to win the ball in the opposition half and attack with urgency after possession was won.
But he did observe that fitness was an issue.
Said the Japanese: "The players did what I demanded from them and while I am not satisfied with the result, overall it was a positive performance.
"But I did see that the players' fitness level is not ready to play 90 minutes (of what I want). We need to get their match fitness up as quickly as possible.
"After 70 minutes, the players were fatigued."
Veteran goalkeeper Hassan, who won his 95th cap, said the team were pleased despite the loss and echoed his coach's sentiments.
He said: "Given that we had only two full sessions with him as a team, I would say we did well. We had a lot of chances, especially in the first half, but we were not clinical.
"The positive is that we had scoring chances and got into good positions. The scoreline does not reflect how the match went. It is a good sign that we controlled the game and we will work hard in the next few days before the qualifiers."
The Asian Cup qualifiers will be Nishigaya's first test in the hot seat. He was appointed on April 25 to replace compatriot Tatsuma Yoshida, who resigned as Lions boss last December.
In his first match, he made three changes from the Lions' last outing - a 2-0 victory against the Philippines in an international friendly in March when current assistant Nazri Nasir was interim coach.
Sticking to the 3-5-2 formation that Yoshida had utilised, Nishigaya drafted in midfielder Yasir Hanapi and left wing-back Iqram Rifqi while handing 22-year-old central midfielder Shah Shahiran his first start.
Despite the loss, it was a night to remember for Young Lions striker Glenn Kweh, 22, who made his debut when he came on for Ikhsan Fandi in the 61st minute.