By Bhas Kunju | Chief Editor, Goal Singapore
Back in 1990, when Sir Alex Ferguson was just over three years into his two-decade long reign at Manchester United, the Red Devils were trophyless and hovering above the relegation zone.
An unremarkable Fergie was on the verge of the sack and it took a Mark Robins goal against an in-form Nottingham Forest in an FA Cup tie that marked the turnaround for the Scotsman and Manchester United, setting off a domination of English football that has been unmatched. Or so the legend goes.
Singapore's 2-1 defeat of Syria is certainly not as dramatic; Bernd Stange was never in any danger and is just months into his managerial career with Singapore. But the result is no less significant. In itself it is a fantastic result.
Syria are the 2012 West Asia Football Federation Champions, a region that includes some of the strongest nations on the Asian continent. Yes, the country has since fallen into turmoil and preparations have been hampered.
Syria have not been able to play a home match since the start of the civil conflicts but their results in the AFC Asian Cup qualifiers have been commendable; a 1-0 defeat to leaders Oman and a 1-1 'home' draw against Jordan in a match played in Tehran, Iran. Keep in mind Jordan hammered Singapore 4-0 and Oman were unlucky not to add to their 2-0 win at Jalan Besar Stadium.
Speaking at the pre-match press conference Singapore coach Stange had played down the importance of the Syria match result, insisting it was far more important that the young players had a good run out against a strong team. It was certainly not an excuse, the German is no stranger to criticism and was not ducking whatever was heading his way had the results been poor. It was meant to ease the pressure off of the players and allow them to play the way he had always envisioned them to, which they did.
That, was the more encouraging part of the 2-1 victory, a solid and confident performance from a Singapore side who looked threatening as they ventured forward and kept their shape throughout the 90 minutes.
So credit where credit is due, Stange deserves his praise and the players lived up to their promise. But let's take this as the foundation for what more is coming our way.
The key now is to not look back. So often Singapore have been at this stage. A promising result, followed by commendable performances but poor results and nothing more to show for. It happened in the early 2000s with good results against the likes of Denmark and Uruguay but that slowly gave way and AFF Championship victories plastered over the cracks that needed to be addressed.
In the mid to late 2000s there was the victory over Iraq, the only loss the then-war torn nation suffered as they clinched an inspiring Asian Cup win. But that too soon became history with poor results that followed and then a 2007 AFF Championship triumph eased the pressure.
The pattern is there but let's break it this time. Let's not sit back and take the accolade. Mark it down as an achievement, a turning point, and look forward to bigger things. By bigger things, that does not include the SEA Games gold.
Let's get a few things straight, even if we win the SEA Games gold in December in Naypyidaw, that should not serve as a reason to celebrate. The gold medal has been a White Whale for Singapore ever since the inception of the competition, nothing more. As an achievement it means little when the AFF Championship has already been won a record 4 times. The real target should be venturing beyond this region and challenging the best.
The next game is a month from now, 'away' to Syria. Hold the momentum, stay the course and make the turning point at full speed.
Preview: Singapore vs Syria