By Bhas Kunju
Chief Editor, Goal.com Singapore
Me: You know Singapore just lost to the Philippines
Mom: Really? What score?
Mom: Hmph. Shame.
To be fair my mom thinks Cristiano Ronaldo is the offspring of fat Ronaldo, but she’s got a point. A point that was heard all over on Friday night among Singapore football fans.
At Jurong West Stadium with Azkals fans outnumbering the locals 2:1, the Lions lost 2-0 to a Stephan Shcrock-led Philippines side. It was the first time the Philippines had beaten Singapore since 1972 when they won by the same scoreline in Indonesia as part of the Jakarta Tournament.
Just a year ago, Shaiful Esah and Aleksandar Duric scored a goal each to see off the same nation at the Jalan Besar Stadium.
I was there of course, covering for Goal.com International, and the result was vindication for the shock draw from the previous year at the AFF Suzuki Cup when a 1-1 draw was the beginning of a dismal campaign for the 2009 finalists who eventually failed to progress past the group stage.
What followed was a major shake-up of the national team with the promise of rebuilding. Out went underperforming regulars, Precious Emuejeraye, John Wilkinson, Noh Alam Shah, Muhammad Ridhuan and others, who have all since not been near the national set-up.
In the eyes of the public, the 2-0 victory last year seemed to have in some ways vanquished the past mistakes but having covered that game I remember feeling largely underwhelmed.
Over 90 minutes the Philippines struggled to hold possession and often looked threatening themselves on the attack, but they were clearly let down by a lack of experience as individual players at this level, and the lack of cohesiveness, understandable given the relative unfamiliarity of the new call-ups.
For the home side, it was evident that they were short on attacking capabilities, failing to create proper chances from the relatively larger possession they boasted. Eventually, it took a Shaiful Esah-deflected effort and a moment of inspiration from Shahdan Sulaiman to set-up Duric and seal the victory.
Over the space of a year that passed, the Philippines have been restless.
According to Fifa statistics, the Azkals have had 10 ‘A’ matches this year prior to the Jurong West showdown, and at least nine other sparring matches with the likes of the Australian U23 and clubs from South Korea and Qatar.
In comparison, Singapore has had six ‘A’ matches according to Fifa, including the World Cup Quaifier Iraq and the friendly against Azerbaijan just before. The remaining two were two-legged friendlies with Hong Kong and Malaysia.
When fans started calling for heads and after the defeat to the Philippines, it was largely due to the frustration of seeing their country lose to a former football minnow. The keyword here is ‘former’.
Singapore’s defeat was not unsurprising and neither was it really a shock. They lost to a better team.
The Philippines’ reason for growth is clear - they have simply had better preparations. Of course calling upon European-based players with Filipino ancestry is a bonus, but there is no guarantee that will bring success.
After all, Singapore has been fielding naturalised players for nearly a decade, so we are hardly in any position to cry foul or use that as an excuse.
At the end of the match, I tweeted: ‘To all the Spore fans complaining about losing to Philippines- the bar hasn't dropped, it has just been raised and we haven't stepped up’
It is true, the bar has been raised. Not just by the Philippines but also by our neighbours Malaysia who outclassed Singapore in the Causeway Challenge, and the likes of Vietnam and Indonesia have not been sitting on their bums either (though the latter still has the slight issue of having two national teams).
I cannot say for sure, that better preparations will guarantee us success, but ask anyone with an inkling of football knowledge and they will tell you it would not hurt your chances either.
The AFF Suzuki Cup starts in late November, and the Philippines have lined up Kuwait, Bahrain and Taiwan in the coming months for preparation.
What about Singapore? We have Myanmar in a couple of day and then it’s Vietnam and the Azkals again before we march into the Group of Death.
I have not planned my holiday for November and December. to keep myself free to cover the Lions’ path to a record fourth title.
I hope I am right. Otherwise I am stuck with my mom for the year’s end.
Note: The article originally stated the Azerbaijan match was part of the World Cup Qualifiers. This is incorrect, it was a friendly match.