Football: S'pore Lions heading into unfamiliar territory during pandemic

Baihakki Khaizan will be in for a new experience when the Lions travel to Riyadh for World Cup qualifiers.
Baihakki Khaizan will be in for a new experience when the Lions travel to Riyadh for World Cup qualifiers.PHOTO: @I.AM.BAIHAKKI/INSTAGRAM

SINGAPORE - Over the course of his 18-year football career, defender Baihakki Khaizan has played in cities across Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand.

While the 37-year-old veteran has seen it all in football, the Covid-19 pandemic means he will be in for a new experience when the Lions travel to Riyadh next month for World Cup qualifiers against Palestine, Uzbekistan and Saudi Arabia.

This is the first time that the Lions will be travelling during the pandemic and Baihakki, who has 137 international caps, will link up later with the 26-man squad in Riyadh as his wife is due to give birth next week.

He said: "We have been in this weird situation for the past year where staying indoors and being extra careful of our hygiene has become a norm.

"For us players, we have to realise that it not just us but everybody is in a similar situation. Other countries will also go through similar obstacles. We have to just put all these factors aside and get on with our job, to get the best results possible.

"Ultimately, it boils down to the hunger and desire to play for the country."

The Lions depart Singapore next Tuesday (May 25) and will first arrive in Dubai, where they will play Afghanistan in a training match on May 29 before leaving for Saudi Arabia two days later for their two-week stay.

While they do not have to be quarantined in both places, every member of the contingent of 26 players and 14 backroom staff will be adhering to strict safety measures and protocols to minimise the risk of Covid-19 transmission.

These include mandatory polymerase chain reaction (PCR) swab tests two days prior to every departure and match, daily temperature monitoring and symptom checks, restriction of movement only to official facilities (team hotel, training venue, stadiums) and mask wearing at all times outside of hotel rooms.

Team manager Eric Ong said the team have explored the idea of donning personal protective equipment (PPE) on their flights but have yet to confirm if they will do so. All Singapore-based personnel have also been fully vaccinated.

Upon return to Singapore, players and staff will serve a 21-day quarantine at a dedicated facility.

Said Ong: " This trip is not an easy one to make. The preparation started last year... it has been a collective team effort between different agencies.

"A lot of work has gone on behind the scenes that has been invaluable in getting us to this stage ahead of our travel. Hopefully we do the country proud during this period of time."