SINGAPORE DREW level in the 88TH minute of the World/Asia Cup Qualifiers with Syria at the National Stadium last night after trailing 1-0 for most of the match, but what happened next was puzzling.
The Lions headed straight for the stands to celebrate in front of the fans and then took their sweet time walking back for the restart. It must have been a full minute after Safuwan Baharudin equalised from the penalty spot.
Any other team, when they are trailing and winning means moving up the table or to the next round, players don’t have time for jubilation in the dying minutes of a game. It is simply stupid.
They are anxious to retrieve the ball from the back of the net and put it down in the centre to get the match going. The goal is to try and score again in whatever time is left. Win or lose, it is about never giving up and fighting to the end, even with a man down.
What was at stake with Syria last night? Automatic qualification to the 2019 Asian Cup Finals in UAE. The eight teams that top their groups will move on to Round 3 of the World Cup qualifiers and along with the four best runners-up earn berths at UAE.
Singapore was sitting third in Group E, trailing Japan and Syria, and had they won last night would have moved a rung up the table and a chance to qualify for an automatic spot in the Asian Cup Finals.
Playing a man short for most of the second half after Madhu Mohana received his marching orders for fouling Omar Kharbin, the Lions struggled to stop the Syrian charge or score until that penalty.
In the dying moments, it was obvious they wanted to end the game square and take the fight for the Asian Cup berth to their last group match against Afghanistan in March.
As it turned out, four minutes were added to regulation time and Omar scored for Syria at the death. The opportunity for automatic qualification was gone.
We know this Singapore team lack quality. This has been obvious since they failed to get past the group stages of last year’s AFF Suzuki Cup. But what’s deeply worrying is that they don’t have a winning mentality as well.
Top athletes psyched themselves up to win. They don’t always end up victorious and many never do. But what comes out of a winning mentality is a performance that drives crowds to admire their output in the sporting arena. This is what turns out top athletes and worthy champions.
Coach Bernd Stange said the team gave off their best in the match. The German has not publicly lashed out at his players but he should start. Call a spade a spade.
I am beginning to sound like a broken record but except for a handful of players, the bulk of the Lions is either not giving off their best or simply not up to par.
At the international level, there is no room to coddle professional players. Stange should take a leaf from Choo Seng Quee, Singapore’s no-nonsense coach in the 1960s and 1970s.
Uncle Choo, as he is fondly known, looked after his players but never pulled punches, in public or otherwise, when they slacked on the field of battle.
Stange has much to do, if Singapore are to qualify for the Asian Cup through the regular route. They need a major repair job on their play but this will mean nothing if he can’t fix their attitude. And this can’t be done if the German go soft on the Lions.
As I’ve always said, crack the whip, coach!