We've nothing to lose: Yoshida

Lions coach wants team to stick to their guns against group leaders Saudi Arabia

Lions midfielder Shahdan Sulaiman and forward Hafiz Nor at a training session ahead of their final World Cup qualifying match against Saudi Arabia today. They face a tough match against the Group D leaders after recent losses to Palestine and Uzbekis
Lions midfielder Shahdan Sulaiman and forward Hafiz Nor at a training session ahead of their final World Cup qualifying match against Saudi Arabia today. They face a tough match against the Group D leaders after recent losses to Palestine and Uzbekistan.PHOTO: FAS

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 today.

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 the 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. 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 as they have earned plaudits for taking on stronger Middle Eastern and Central Asian teams since he took over in May 2019. Elements of their 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 the 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 danger men.

The Lions were also dealt another blow after defender Shakir Hamzah withdrew from the squad yesterday, 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).

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 qualify for 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.

SINGAPORE V SAUDI ARABIA

Mediacorp Ch5, tomorrow, 1.50am

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 11, 2021, with the headline 'We've nothing to lose: Yoshida'. Subscribe