Three matches left in this stage of World Cup Qualifying, and Singapore need tonnes of self-belief to convince their own home fans that football is once again worth supporting.
Currently, Singapore sits at the bottom of the table with 1 goal scored and 7 conceded. Their next opponents, Jordan, are at the other end with a 100% record, having scored 7 and conceded only 1.
Although Singapore opened their third stage campaign with a 2-1 defeat in Kunming against China, the Lions had all to play for. Buoyed by the anger at poor refereeing decisions and the goal notched in a hostile atmosphere, Singapore should have capitalised on strong home support to pick up points in Jalan Besar.
Perhaps tellingly, local sports website Redsports’ reports on the matches had only one comment. It was as if the Singaporean fans had been trained to take defeat for granted, an attitude that at least the players on the pitch did not reflect with their gritty displays at home.
The story of the second match, though, was similar: Singapore starting promisingly but conceding goals due to lapses in concentration. There was even controversy over penalty calls, just as it had been in China. The artificial pitch, which Iraq coach Zico had complained about, helped Iraq to their second goal.
A 2-0 friendly win at home against the Philippines between fixtures did little to boost confidence, especially when the vocal minority of Pinoy fans took over the Jalan Besar Stadium and Singapore effectively lost some of its home advantage.
At least the return of Hariss Harun from national service (another topic for another time) to bolster the midfield and the defensive strength of Safuwan Baharudin, who almost single-handedly kept the scoreline respectable against Iraq (thanks Yizhe from Redsports), gave the Lions something to look forward to.
Iraq coach Zico pointed out that Singapore should not afford their opponents too much space in midfield, advice which the Lions took to heart, but while the Lions took the game to their visitors, their finishing was again just not up to par, and giving the Jordanians too much space at the crucial moments allowed them to fly home with a flattering 3-0 win. (Sure, Shahril Ishak was unjustly denied a consolation goal on 77 minutes, but blaming the officials should not become the national sport.)
Singapore reversing the result on Thursday to beat Jordan 3-0 would be too much to hope for. More realistic would be a narrow hard-fought victory to bring the glimmer of hope back into the Singaporean fans’ and footballers’ eyes, especially since the Lions have been all but written off at this stage.
If Iraq take three points against China they will almost certainly have qualified, but will also keep the door open for a Singapore miracle.
However, the onus is on the Lions to play their hearts out for a result in Amman. They should do better without the crushing masses of apathy at home, something which the LATWcrew are working very hard to change.