Football: Show no fear against Saudi Arabia, demands Singapore coach Tatsuma Yoshida

The Lions have been bold in their approach since Tatsuma Yoshida took charge in May and are top in their World Cup Qualifier group after two matches.
The Lions have been bold in their approach since Tatsuma Yoshida took charge in May and are top in their World Cup Qualifier group after two matches.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - Courage is everything in sport. For Singapore football, this means playing with the heart of a lion despite the seemingly insurmountable odds against them in Thursday (Oct 10) night's World Cup Qualifier away in Saudi Arabia.

The Republic have never beaten the Saudis in nine previous encounters, and have lost the last five meetings without even scoring a goal. When captain Hariss Harun and his team walk out on the King Abdullah Stadium in Buraidah, they will face a side ranked 70th in the world, 87 places higher than them.

None of this matters, Singapore coach Tatsuma Yoshida told The Straits Times.

"What can we do to get a good result? We must not be afraid," said the 45-year-old Japanese. "Saudi Arabia know they must win the match to get back on track for qualifying, and it is easy to only defend in the match, but this is not my style.

"We will do our best and try to attack against them. We know this will be very difficult, but we want to challenge them and we also want to win."

The Lions have been bold in their approach since Yoshida took charge in May. They are the lowest ranked side in Group D at No. 157, but are top after two matches, with a 2-2 draw against world No. 137 Yemen followed by a 2-1 win over No. 101 Palestine in September.

They then held 98th-ranked Jordan to a goalless draw in Amman and prevented the hosts from registering any shots on target last Saturday.

The Saudis, who have qualified for five World Cups, including last year's edition in Russia, will be Yoshida's Lions' toughest test though.

"Saudi Arabia are one the strongest teams in Asia, they are on the same level as Iran, Japan, South Korea, North Korea, and Qatar," he said.

"They are good technically and tactically, they have good build-up and good rotation, but couldn't score more goals (they drew 2-2 away in Yemen in their opening Group D match).

He has studied five of the Saudi's recent matches and noted his counterpart Herve Renard, who won two Africa Cup of Nations with Zambia and Ivory Coast previously, had made nine player changes from the Yemen game.


Yoshida said: "Yes, we had some good results... because the boys did pretty well to understand and follow our strategies, tactics and concepts in terms of how we want to attack and defend.


"Sometimes we are lucky but that is also very important in football. The boys want to be a good team and they want to win. They are now better than before in terms of confidence."

He has further reasons to be bullish. The clean sheet in the Jordan match was Singapore's first under him, and the team has been strengthened by the return of striker Ikhsan Fandi, 20, who flew to Saudi Arabia from Norway where he plays for Raufoss.

Yoshida added: "Our defence, especially goalkeeper Hassan (Sunny) and the two centre-backs Safuwan (Baharudin) and Irfan (Fandi) showed very good concentration, attitude and leadership.

"In midfield and attack, Shahdan (Sulaiman) didn't play against Jordan but I know his ability. We will also have more competition up front as Ikhsan comes back, so that will be good."

The confidence and feel-good factor are also filtering through the team, with midfielder Hariss, 28, urging his teammates to "be up for it".

He said: "We cannot be satisfied with past results. Against Jordan, we did not create chances necessary to score and win. We need to be more mobile and give options to each other instead of just clearing the ball.

"Saudi Arabia are one of the regional heavyweights and a great challenge for us. But we have managed a good start and if we want to achieve something special, we have to keep working our hardest and try to push ourselves as far as possible."