Coach Tatsuma Yoshida eyes 4 points from Lions' 3 World Cup qualifiers
National coach's target means his side will likely have to get a result against Uzbeks or Saudis
National coach Tatsuma Yoshida is aiming for four points from the Lions' difficult trio of World Cup 2022 qualifiers against Palestine (June 3), Uzbekistan (June 7) and Saudi Arabia (June 11).
It is a bold target, considering that before their 2-1 victory over Yemen in their last qualifier in November 2019 in Bahrain, the Lions had not recorded a win against Middle Eastern or Central Asian opposition on away or neutral venues in 22 attempts.
They had also failed to score more than once in any of those encounters, finding the net just 10 times and conceding 58 goals.
At a virtual press conference yesterday, Yoshida said: "We have to challenge in every match, even if our opponents are strong... We will aim to play for victory in every match and everyone wants to try and secure second spot in the group."
On the teams occupying the top two positions, he added: "For Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan, they are rivals (for top spot), so they must beat us. If we will be able to get four points, maybe we'll be there."
The four best second-placed teams will join the eight group winners in the third round of qualifiers and secure their spots for the 2023 Asian Cup in China.
Singapore - the lowest-ranked Group D team in the Fifa standings - sit third in the five-team pool with seven points from five matches, two adrift of Uzbekistan and four behind group leaders Saudi Arabia.
To get at least four points from their matches in Riyadh, the Lions will likely need to beat Palestine, who are bottom with four points, and hold either the Saudis or Uzbeks to a draw.
The Saudis have qualified for five of the last seven World Cups and, while the Uzbeks have never made it to football's showpiece, they boast a smattering of Europe-based players, including striker Eldor Shomurodov - who has scored four times in Genoa's last five Serie A matches.
Palestine (104th), meanwhile, are 55 rungs above the Lions (159th) in the Fifa ladder, and are higher ranked than any team in South-east Asia, bar Vietnam.
Such is the renewed confidence in the Lions camp that reigning Singapore Premier League Player of the Year Gabriel Quak does not see four points as an overly ambitious target.
He told The New Paper: "I think the gap has grown closer. I won't say (four points) is a bold target, it's a modest target...
"As sportsmen, one important aspect is your self-belief. If you go into a match thinking, 'I can't', then honestly, half the battle is lost.
"Even against a top team like the Saudis, we must go there thinking we can get a result."
National captain Hariss Harun, meanwhile, said the 2019 win over Yemen was a "turning point" for the Lions.
He said: "We had good results and performances before the pandemic put a temporary stop to qualification.
"Now resuming after 1½ years, we still hold the same confidence. We respect the fact that these are huge teams, but we should not be afraid to go out there and compete.
"I know we are the lowest-ranked team, but that hasn't stopped us from being where we are on the table right now with three more games and qualification at stake."
Among the three uncapped players called up for the training match against Afghanistan in Dubai on May 29 and the three qualifiers in Riyadh is Ilhan Fandi.
The 18-year-old attacker is the third of local football legend Fandi Ahmad's sons to receive a national call-up, following in the footsteps of defender Irfan, 23, and striker Ikhsan, 22 - who is nursing a medial collateral ligament injury.
This means the Fandi boys have emulated another storied band of brothers, the Quahs.
For four decades since 1952, when Kim Beng made his bow, to 1983, when Kim Song exited the international stage, the first family of Singapore football had six brothers donning the national jersey, with Kim Choon, Kim Swee, Kim Siak and Kim Lye being the others.
There was at least one Quah in the Lions' ranks at any one time, and even a trio of them in the national set-up during several junctures.
On the Fandis, Yoshida said: "These brothers have original talent that is quite different...
"Ilhan has natural instinct that's difficult to describe... Even if he's not the son of a legend, I'd call him up because of his performances and talent."
Goalkeepers: Hassan Sunny, Izwan Mahbud, Zaiful Nizam
Defenders: Irfan Fandi, Amirul Adli, Baihakki Khaizan, Hafiz Abu Sujad, Madhu Mohana, Nazrul Nazari, Shakir Hamzah, Zulqarnaen Suzliman
Midfielders: Hariss Harun, Yasir Hanapi, M. Anumanthan, Hami Syahin, Shahdan Sulaiman, Zulfahmi Arifin, Saifullah Akbar, Idraki Adnan
Forwards: Gabriel Quak, Ikhsan Fandi, Ilhan Fandi, Faris Ramli, Hafiz Nor, Hazzuwan Halim, Shawal Anuar