Wed. Nov 30th, 2022

SINGAPORE – The Lions are still licking their wounds after Thursday’s hapless 4-0 defeat by Palestine in a World Cup qualifier but an even stiffer test awaits them on Monday (June 7) against Uzbekistan.

And while the 159th-ranked Lions are not likely to beat their 86th-ranked opponents, defender Baihakki Khaizan wants his team-mates to regain some respect with a creditable performance at the King Fahd International Stadium in Riyadh.

The result against Palestine saw the team criticised heavily on social media and the 37-year-old, who is the most capped player in the squad with 138 appearances, said: “Uzbekistan are way ahead of us in terms of standards but what the fans back home expect whenever you play teams like these is that even if you lose, the performance must assure them (that we played to the best of our ability).

“We need to get back to focusing on the things we are good at. Forget the result, we need to put in the hard work and let the result speak for itself.

“We know we messed up against Palestine. But let’s try and show our full potential in the remaining games. That’s the best way of responding. Everybody has a point to prove. The message is simple – give everything we have and reclaim (our) pride.”

Baihakki was introduced at half-time against Palestine with the team 3-0 down. With the change, the Lions switched from a back four to a back three and saw an improvement in their defensive shape. Coach Tatsuma Yoshida is expected to employ the same formation against Uzbekistan.

Yoshida also indicated that personnel changes are on the cards. Noting that some players were suffering from fatigue, he said that the intensity of an international match was different compared to that in the local leagues of Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia where the Lions ply their trade.

Singapore will have their work cut out against the White Wolves. In the previous match between both teams, in October 2019, Uzbekistan were 3-1 winners at the National Stadium. The opponents also come into this fixture after a 4-1 win over South-east Asian kingpins Thailand in a warm-up match last Sunday.

Eldor Shomurodov, who notched a brace against Singapore last year, will be the main danger man again. The 25-year-old had eight goals for Italian Serie A side Genoa this term.

But Yoshida said that the Lions will not pay special attention to Shomurodov alone.

“It is not just about him. There are other players of high quality. We have to take care of all of them,” he explained. “We need to be more aggressive and have a better mindset than the one we showed against Palestine. The players want to prove themselves and I hope to see that in this match.”

Baihakki urged his teammates to be “mentally stronger” to avoid a repeat of the lacklustre showing in the previous match.

Noting that two of Palestine’s goals came from penalties the Lions conceded, he added: “This is the international game for you – there is no room for error because mistakes can be critical. In the space of 10 minutes, we conceded three goals. We need to stay focused for 90 minutes. That’s the part where we lacked.”

Singapore are fourth in Group D with seven points, level with third-placed Palestine, who have played a game more and lead on goal difference. Saudi Arabia lead the group with 14 points, with Uzbekistan five points adrift, while Yemen are bottom with five points.

The group winners and the best five runners-up from the eight groups qualify for the Asian Cup and progress to the third round of qualifying for next year’s World Cup. The remaining teams still can qualify for the Asian Cup via various other permutations although a third-placed finish would guarantee a spot in the third round of Asian Cup qualifiers.

Football Association of Singapore President Lim Kia Tong called on the Lions to put aside the negativity as he reaffirmed his support for the team.

He said: “The team must move past the game against Palestine. It was a performance that we all didn’t expect but the players must bury the negativity and focus and surmount the next two battles. I know the boys are much, much better than that, given how they fared in the previous qualifier matches.

“I was updated that the boys have regrouped, and together with the coaching team, have analysed the last match and want to redeem themselves for the remaining battles and I am confident that they will, with maximum and never-say-die effort. The FAS, our committed fans and the football fraternity are solidly behind the team in the next two matches.”

By rahul