Lions affected by lack of playing time with clubs: Yasir Hanapi
As skipper reflects on S'pore's heavy defeats, coach cites drop in fitness levels
Stand-in skipper Yasir Hanapi said a lack of playing time with their respective clubs has hampered the Lions, while national coach Tatsuma Yoshida cited his side's lower fitness levels as they failed to match Uzbekistan's intensity in a 5-0 defeat yesterday morning (Singapore time).
The World Cup 2022 qualifying loss was the Lions' heaviest defeat since a 6-0 drubbing by two-time world champions Argentina in a 2017 friendly.
Yesterday's hammering in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, came four days after a 4-0 reverse against Palestine in another Group D fixture, which Yoshida had dubbed the "worst performance" since he took over in May 2019.
Following that loss, the 46-year-old changed five of his first XI and switched from a 4-2-3-1 to a 3-4-3 for the Lions' penultimate qualifier against the Uzbeks.
The Japanese tactician felt his 159th-ranked side did produce an improved display of "fighting spirit" and "tactical quality" at the King Fahd International Stadium, as compared to four days ago, but the Lions went into the break 3-0 down, just as they did against Palestine.
Said Yoshida: "The boys' performance is better than the previous match...
"They were doing well but the first goal made their motivation go down a bit... The (Uzbekistan) players' individual and physical quality is quite high and far better than ours.
"We can learn from them. They have quality but they run a lot. Our players did well but are not used to that intensity."
Successive heavy defeats have taken some of the sheen off a promising start to his tenure and the qualification campaign, before Covid-19 deprived the Lions of international football for 18 months.
When asked what had changed from 2019, when the Lions had beaten Palestine and Yemen and performed admirably in a 3-1 defeat by the Uzbeks - where they went into the break at 1-1 - Yoshida flagged a drop in fitness levels.
He said: "I have no excuses but we have to improve and play with intensity. We have to change our daily life and focus on football and learn and improve a lot. Two years ago, I think the squad was a bit fitter."
When asked about Yoshida's comments, Yasir, 31, told The New Paper he struggled to adapt to the "dry air" and weather in Riyadh but insisted "I don't want to make it an excuse".
Riyadh is about 600 metres above sea level, while most of Singapore is around 15m above sea level. The projected average temperature in the Saudi capital this week is over 40 deg C.
Yasir added: "The lack of playing time at clubs is affecting a lot of players. For example, Hafiz Nor, he's a good player, but he has not gotten much playing time. It's the same with a lot of other players."
Hafiz has played just 61 minutes for the Lion City Sailors this season.
Meanwhile, Faris Ramli has started only once for the Sailors, Izwan Mahbud last turned out for Samut Prakan City in Thai League 1 last November and his then-clubmate Zulfahmi Arifin had started two league games since February.
Lions captain Hariss Harun - who is unavailable due to personal reasons, along with fellow key players Ikhsan Fandi and Safuwan Baharudin (both through injury) - warned of this situation in March.
On the Singapore Premier League rule which stipulates that each local team must field at least three Under-23 players in the starting line-up, he told The Straits Times: "We are already in a situation where the talent pool for the national team is not big enough and, now if we are limiting the playing time for these players, it is going to affect the national team a lot."
END OF SLIM CHANCE
Yesterday's defeat ended the Lions' slim chance of finishing second and potentially moving into the next round of qualifiers.
They are unlikely to finish higher than fourth in the five-team group.
Third-placed Palestine, who have seven points from seven games like Singapore, but boast a superior goal difference, play bottom side Yemen in their final match.
The Lions will meet group leaders Saudi Arabia on Saturday morning. The Saudis have 14 points from six games, two ahead of the Uzbeks, who have played the same number of matches.