Encouraging signs for Singapore amidst Jordan defeat

The quest to qualify for the 2015 AFC Asian Cup is almost over now, but the Lions showed enough in their determined performance to suggest things can be better in future
Teng Kiat

It was the penultimate group game in their 2015 AFC Asian Cup qualifying campaign, but it was as good as the last for Singapore after their 3-1 defeat to Jordan on Tuesday night.

The result saw Jordan qualify for the tournament proper in second place behind Group A leaders Oman, while Singapore need a miracle to make it to Australia by virtue of being the best third-placed side.

While Lions boss Bernd Stange claimed after the loss that there was "more to criticise than praise" about the performance, even he would surely have been pleased with his team's spirit.

Having weathered an early storm in the first 15 minutes or so, the home side settled down in front of around 2,000 supporters and did not look in danger of being overrun by a team that were one step away from making it to the World Cup in Brazil later this year.

Admittedly, this was not the same Jordan team that fell at the final hurdle against Uruguay in the play-offs. But it was still one hell-bent on sealing qualification before their last game against Syria, as their coach Hossam Hassan had declared a day before. With both wingers playing almost alongside the two strikers and the full-backs pushed up high, their intentions were clear.

The opening goal, coming as it did just before half-time, was a huge blow especially as Singapore were holding their own before. Baihakki Khaizan's red card made things worse, but the way his team-mates reacted was commendable.

The Lions refused to be cowed despite the one-man disadvantage. Indeed, they nearly equalised just after the sending off and the determined attitude to make a game out of it continued after the break.

There was no sitting back and they were arguably unfortunate not to get a second before Jordan got theirs. Bringing on Gabriel Quak and Faris Ramli instead of more defensive players were positive moves, and Khairul Amri's goal was the least they deserved even if the penalty decision was dubious.

The eagerness to grab a late equaliser was punished by a decisive third from the experienced Jordanians, but the Lions had shown enough heart and fight to hearten all those watching on. The emphasis on short passing and high pressing continued on from the win against Syria, with fewer aimless long balls.

Safuwan Baharudin's display in particular was one to highlight. Deployed in a defensive midfield role, the 22-year-old gave an all-action performance and it was his cross that led to the handball decision. Afiq Yunos acquitted himself well in central defence as well, while Quak sparked life down the right after coming on.

Of course, there is still a long way to go for Singapore to reach the next level. Their inexperience against Asian-class opposition was exposed ruthlessly for the first and third goals, while lapses in concentration, like the one that resulted in the second, have to be cut out.

The lack of a prolific striker continues to be a problem (although Amri might disagree), as is the inability to threaten often from open play. Playing Shahril Ishak upfront could work, but only if he is complemented by more creative, attacking talents from midfield. Hariss Harun and Zulfahmi Arifin do not offer that at the moment.

There are also issues that exist within the current development framework, from the S.League to the LionsXII and across all age groups. Sparring matches against quality opposition should also be the norm. For Singapore football to truly progress, there has to be clear and proper planning at all levels.

But resilient displays like this and the one against Syria have shown that there are encouraging signs to suggest that things can be better. Whether such potential can be built upon, it remains to be seen.