Spineless Lions collapse

Drubbing by Uzbeks shows how badly they miss Safuwan, Hariss and Ikhsan

Singapore (in red) failed to register a shot on target against Uzbekistan in their 2022 World Cup qualifier on Monday. PHOTO: FAS
Singapore (in red) failed to register a shot on target against Uzbekistan in their 2022 World Cup qualifier on Monday. PHOTO: FAS

Taking on vastly superior opponents without their spine of key players, the gulf in class was evident again as world No. 159 Singapore lost 5-0 to 86th-ranked Uzbekistan in a World Cup qualifier on Monday.

Following last Thursday's dispiriting 4-0 defeat by Palestine, Lions coach Tatsuma Yoshida made five changes to the starting line-up and switched to a back three, while Faris Ramli replaced Ilhan Fandi up front as the false nine.

But the result was similar - Singapore were 3-0 down at the break, conceded again in the second half, and had no shots on target, as they showed just how much they were missing defender Safuwan Baharudin, midfielder and captain Hariss Harun, and striker Ikhsan Fandi, who were unavailable due to injury and personal reasons.

Yoshida said the Lions "were better than the previous match", but could not match their opponents' quality. He added: "We made a few changes and I felt we did well before the first goal. After that goal, we lost a bit of motivation.

"There was a big difference in quality and their level was high, far from us. We can learn from them. They have quality and ran a lot. We are not used to this intensity. We have to learn to keep on going."

Despite the Lions showing some aggression straight from kick-off, it took the Uzbeks just six minutes to rip up Yoshida's plans at the King Fahd International Stadium.

Ikromjon Alibaev played a lofted pass to Jaloliddin Masharipov, who side-footed a first-time effort in off the post. Masharipov then doubled the advantage with a disguised shot that fizzed between Madhu Mohana's legs and beat goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud at his near post in the 34th minute. Eldor Shomu-rodov, who plays for Italian Serie A side Genoa, found the bottom corner in first-half added time.

Uzbekistan captain Odil Ahmedov made it 4-0 by firing in at the near post five minutes after the restart and Singapore's misery was compounded when Irfan Fandi deflected a cross into his own goal in the 89th minute, right after the Lions had a strong penalty claim from a clear handball turned down at the other end.

The result meant 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.

They end their campaign against Group D leaders Saudi Arabia on Friday and can still reach 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.

Despite starting the qualifiers brightly, the Lions could end it on a whimper with three heavy defeats in as many games.

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Yoshida had earned plaudits for injecting confidence in the national team since taking over in May 2019, as they adopted a positive approach against the stronger Middle Eastern and central Asian teams in earlier matches and impressed.

A few months later at the National Stadium, they beat Palestine 2-1 and were tied 1-1 at half-time against the Uzbeks before losing 3-1.

Two years on, they have seemingly regressed. In the last two games, they conceded nine goals without registering a single shot on target against the same opponents.

When asked why he thinks the Lions' performance and results have declined in the last two matches, Yoshida replied: "We have many reasons for that but I have no excuse. We have to improve our intensity.

"Two years ago, our squad was fitter. Now, I cannot have a good answer (to the question).

"But today we showed almost our full potential and in the next match we have to do our best."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 09, 2021, with the headline 'Spineless Lions collapse'. Subscribe