It was not exactly the Kallang Roar, and the National Stadium was again nowhere near full capacity. But if the Lions can continue their renaissance and play enterprising football under Tatsuma Yoshida, it will not be long before the fabled fever pitch is back.
World No. 157 Singapore may have lost 3-1 to 88th-ranked Uzbekistan in a 2022 World Cup Asian Zone qualifier yesterday, but they would have won over many fans with their gutsy display as they rebuild for the future.cccccccc
Thanking the supporters, skipper Hariss Harun said: “The fans did their part and turned up in good numbers. We are sorry about the result but it was very encouraging to have them behind us.”
In front of 12,547 fans, Yoshida’s men did not cower against the central Asians. Once again showing his tactical flexibility, he deployed the Lions in a 4-5-1 formation, with playmaker Zulfahmi Arifin standing in at left-back while skipper and defensive midfielder Hariss played an advanced role behind lone striker Ikhsan Fandi.
Winger Hafiz Nor nearly gave the hosts a shock lead when his 10th-minute curler drew a smart stop from Eldorbek Suyunov.
Five minutes later, the visitors took the lead through Odil Ahmedov’s piercing free kick but Singapore continued to take the game to the Uzbeks.
They were denied a penalty in the 44th minute when Farrukh Sayfiev miskicked the ball on to his own arm in the box, but referee Shen Yinhao was unmoved.
But the Lions earned a rousing ovation at half-time in the next minute when Ikhsan towered over his marker to head home Shahdan Sulaiman’s cross for his seventh international goal in 16 games.
The second half started in the same vein with some nice passages of play from Singapore, only for the Uzbeks to go ahead six minutes after the restart through the unmarked Eldor Shomurodov, who duly headed home Sayfiev’s cross.
The Lions got out of jail when Shomurodov rounded goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud in the 54th minute, only to shoot wide.
Willed on by the home crowd, Singapore tried to find the equaliser via crosses and long-range efforts but were just not clinical enough.
Shomurodov sealed the win with his second goal in added time, latching on to Ikromjon Alibaev’s through ball before beating Izwan.
Singapore slipped to fourth in the group with four points from four games. Uzbekistan are top on six points, one more than Saudi Arabia, who were held 0-0 in Palestine.
Yoshida was proud of how his team have competed so far in a tough group, saying: “We must go forward with our heads up. We can be disappointed, but only with the result because we played well, just that it wasn’t enough.
“We have to keep improving and be more confident. Sometimes, the players stop running, and we lose a goal like how we conceded a third goal unnecessarily tonight.
“Against such strong teams, if we give them such chances, we will be punished.
“We have made many improvements since June but we can still improve in terms of communication and awareness. We have to learn, and for the next round of matches, we will find new players, get them to follow our strategy and try to finish as high as possible.”
Hariss added: “The coach is trying to inject more belief that we can take something away from top teams.
“He has given us the freedom to play more attacking football, and we cannot take things easy. We have to show improvement every time we play.”
The Lions’ next qualifier is away in Yemen on Nov 19.