Football: Singapore coach Yoshida wants Lions to stick to positive philosophy

Shahdan Sulaiman practices his free-kicks as the Singapore national team train ahead of their final World Cup qualifying match against Saudi Arabia.
Shahdan Sulaiman practices his free-kicks as the Singapore national team train ahead of their final World Cup qualifying match against Saudi Arabia.PHOTO: FOOTBALL ASSOCIATION OF SINGAPORE (FAS)

SINGAPORE - Despite the Lions being outclassed in their last two World Cup qualifiers, Tatsuma Yoshida wants his men to stick to his philosophy when they meet hosts Saudi Arabia on Friday (June 11).

The Japanese is encouraging his side to play football on the front foot, keeping possession and playing out from the back, while pressing the opponents high up the field. This, even though the Asian powerhouses present the sternest test in their Group D campaign.

And despite the 159th-ranked Lions losing 4-0 to Palestine and 5-0 to Uzbekistan earlier, he does not want them to adopt an all-out defensive approach against the 65th-ranked Saudis.

Speaking to The Straits Times from Riyadh ahead of the match at King Saud University stadium, Yoshida said: "Our philosophy, we have to follow that. We have to try to build up (from the back) and deal with it even if Saudi Arabia are going to press against us. We have to stick to it and learn from these matches. It is important for us.

"We have nothing to lose. We will just try to do our best and keep going.

"If we want to avoid losing and just focus on defending for 90 minutes, we will die. Of course we will spend more of the match defending because of the strength of the opponents but we must try to attack when we can."

This positive approach is not alien to the Lions. After he took the reins in May 2019, they had earned plaudits for taking the game to stronger Middle Eastern and Central Asian teams. Elements of the Lions' confident build-up play were evident in wins over Palestine and Yemen in the earlier qualifying matches in 2019 although the team have not carried out this tactic as effectively in the recent losses.

But mustering even a draw against Saudi Arabia may prove to be a tall order.

The Saudis have been in supreme form in these qualifiers as they remain unbeaten in six matches. They have been sharp in front of goal as well, scoring 16 goals and conceding only four. Salem Al-Dawsari and Fahad Al-Muwallad, who have seven goals between them in this campaign, will be the main dangermen.

The Lions were also dealt another blow after defender Shakir Hamzah withdrew from the current squad on Thursday, citing "pressing personal commitments that require immediate attention". He becomes the fourth key figure of the team to be ruled out after captain Hariss Harun (personal reasons), defender Safuwan Baharudin and lead striker Ikhsan Fandi (both injured).


In this photo taken on May 29, 2021, Lions coach Tatsuma Yoshida is sitting on the sidelines in a training match in Dubai. PHOTO: FAS

Shahdan Sulaiman, 33, one of the senior figures in the team, said the players were fully behind Yoshida's methods.

The midfielder, who has started all seven of the Lions' qualifiers so far, said: "I feel this (his philosophy) is the way forward. We are disappointed by the first two matches and the team knows we can do better. But we have no time to sit down and sob and be down about that because the next match is upon us. So we have to look forward and try to improve our performance."

The Lion City Sailors midfielder is also eager to pit himself against superior opposition, saying: "As a player, these are the matches you look forward to - playing against top-class players and seeing where you stand. Results do matter but I think we need to focus on putting on a performance that we can all be proud of."

Singapore remain fourth in Group D with seven points from seven games and will not progress to the third round of the World Cup qualifiers by finishing in the top two regardless of the result against the Saudis. The Lions, however, can still make it direct to the third round of Asian Cup qualifiers by finishing in third place, or as one of the four best fourth-placed teams from the eight groups.