SINGAPORE - As the Lions look set to write off more than one year of national team action, Singapore coach Tatsuma Yoshida's key word is trust, as he believes his players can continue progressing under his guidance once the international football calendar resumes.
On Wednesday (Aug 12), Fifa announced that games scheduled for October and November, including World Cup and Asian Cup qualifiers, will be pushed back till after the new year because of the coronavirus crisis.
The Lions were scheduled to play Palestine in Al-Ram on Oct 8, host Saudi Arabia on Oct 13, and then play their final Group D game in Tashkent against Uzbekistan on Nov 12.
Singapore are third with seven points in five-team Group D after beating Yemen 2-1 away last November. They lie two points behind leaders Uzbekistan, and one behind second-placed Saudi Arabia. Yemen have five points while Palestine bring up the rear with four.
The top finishers in each of the eight qualifying groups and best four second-placed teams will progress to the third round of World Cup qualifiers and secure a spot at the 2023 Asian Cup in China. The rest will still have opportunities to reach the Asian Cup.
Yoshida told The Straits Times that he trusts the Lions to continue carrying out the tactical concepts and philosophies learnt from previous sessions of national team training in their own training sessions.
He added: "We had intended to call up local-based players for centralised training in September if restrictions were to ease. But if we are unable to, and with Fifa postponing the games in October and November, I am also trusting the various local and foreign clubs to keep the players in the best possible mental and physical condition.
"There are still three games to go and we have every chance of qualifying for the next round so that will be our priority."
Yoshida was not the only one dismayed by the news of the postponement.
Skipper Hariss Harun, who is recovering from knee surgery in Singapore before he reports back at Johor Darul Takzim later this month for the resumption of the Malaysian Super League, said: "The absence of international football for more than a year feels weird because we are so used to getting together once every few months to travel and play for the national team.
"But this is the new normal, and we have to adapt because this is our social responsibility.
"Under coach Tatsuma, we were just getting used to his style and demands, and were showing signs of promise. When we eventually get back together, we have to try and do that again. It is not going to be easy, so it is up to us to help and push each other."
The 29-year-old felt it may be possible for local-based Lions to play friendly matches against local clubs to get back into the groove when restrictions ease in Singapore, but added that the national team have to pit themselves against top Asian sides to improve.
Meanwhile in Norway, striker Ikhsan Fandi is the first and currently only Lion to be playing competitively, after recovering from a knee strain.
The 21-year-old made two substitute appearances for Raufoss in the second division this month, and hopes to make a bigger impact soon.
He told ST: "I was looking forward to the international games and representing Singapore. But we can focus only on what is ahead of us, and for me, that is club duties for now. Raufoss have many games in a short period of time, so it is crucial for me to be ready at all times.
"I feel great after recovering from the knee injury, and it is just a matter of keeping my head down, working hard, and taking the opportunity when it comes.
"I also feel very lucky to be able to play and train while there are stricter restrictions in some countries. Hopefully, things will go back to normal soon in Singapore and my friends and team-mates can train normally and start playing competitive games too."