Can Singapore avoid the wooden spoon?
Based on the official rankings, the Singapore men's hockey team will head into their final match of the FIH World League Round 2 against Mexico tomorrow as favourites.
But, after a grim campaign, one wonders if the hosts can pick up the pieces in the play-off for 7th/8th and avoid the wooden spoon.
The Republic, world No. 37, fell 3-0 to Bangladesh at the Sengkang Stadium yesterday, their fifth defeat in a row.
Solomon Casoojee's men were humiliated 16-1 by neighbours Malaysia on Tuesday in a Pool A and, all in, they've conceded a whopping 32 goals, while scoring only four times.
The Mexicans, ranked 39th in the world, could prove a tough obstacle.
Bangladesh, who suffered an agonising penalty shoot-out defeat by Oman in a quarter-final on Thursday, played with more confidence and composure against Singapore, who were weakened by the loss of four players.
Missing top striker Ian Vanderput through injury, Singapore were also without captain Enrico Marican, who withdrew from the match after his grandmother's death.
Bangladesh, world No. 29, led 2-0 at half-time after restricting the hosts to zero shots on goal, and they scored early in the third quarter to seal the win.
Speaking to The New Paper after the match, Bangladesh head coach, K Gobinathan, said his team had no doubt they would beat Singapore.
"It was tough to motivate the players after the loss to Oman, but my boys looked up for it today," said the former Malaysian international, who took over the team's reins last month.
"It's been a yo-yo performance from my team in this tournament, but slowly, they have understood the structure I want them to play in."
When asked of his thoughts of the Singapore side, Gobinathan, 37, was reluctant to pass judgment.
He did say, though, that for any nation to improve, basics like a wide talent pool and continuity in player development were necessary.
"I picked 12 players from the junior team to come here and six from the seniors, because we are preparing for the Junior Asia Cup in November," he said.
"In Malaysia and even Bangladesh, there is enough talent for a coach to pick and choose.
"Singapore need more players to choose from, and they must progress through the ranks."
Singapore coach Solomon Casoojee counted just four from his current squad of 20 who competed in the Under-18 Asia Cup in 2011.
The average age of the team is 21, with three players aged 17.
"I have players retiring from hockey at 19. I have a new team every three months," he said, lamenting the lack of continuity in his contingent.
Casoojee, who has led the team since 2011, repeated what he has said all through the tournament - that his players simply had to cut down on basic mistakes.
"All three goals (against Bangladesh) conceded came from turnovers; that's been the story of our tournament," said the South African.
"We have to learn from that lesson, and we haven't done that. We have to value possession a lot more.
"This was absolutely a game we could have won.
"Was it nerves? No. Did fatigue set in? I don't know, but we just have to pick ourselves up for Mexico."
"Bangladesh are a team we should definitely beat. they are a team we’ve beaten before. It’s just a huge waste for us to not get a win."
- Singapore midfielder Ashriq Ferdaus
- Ukraine 4 Mexico 2
- Malaysia v Japan (3pm)
- Oman v Poland (5.30pm)
(Both matches at Sengkang Hockey Stadium)
* The top three teams make the cut for the World League semi-final rounds, in a tournament that acts as a qualifier for both the 2016 Olympics and the International Hockey Federation (FIH) World Cup.