Singapore in tough group for World Cup qualifiers
Singapore kick-off matches against Yemen & Palestine before facing heavyweights Saudi & Uzbekistan
Singapore have been placed in a tough group for the second round of the World Cup 2022 qualifiers.
The Lions are in Group D - along with Yemen, Palestine, Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan - after yesterday's draw at the Asian Football Confederation's (AFC) headquarters in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
National coach Tatsuma Yoshida, who was at the draw, said: "We have got a tough group, in particular being drawn against Uzbekistan, who are one of the strongest teams from Pot 2.
"It's a big challenge for us, but it's one we are looking forward to and we hope to have Singapore fans join us on this journey."
Ranked 162nd in the world, the Lions have their work cut out for them and captain Hariss Harun is well aware of it.
Said the 28-year-old: "It is a tough group with Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan who have a lot of experience, as they normally play in the final round of qualifiers.
"But, we're looking forward to the experience and journey.
"They are demanding physically and very powerful teams. I kind of know how they are and what they bring… So we have to get used to the Middle Eastern style of football."
The Republic last faced 69th -ranked Saudi Arabia and 82nd -ranked Uzbekistan in the second round of the 2010 World Cup qualifiers, but lost all four home-and-away matches.
That was after thrashing Palestine (100th) in the first round with a 4-0 away win. The Lions were awarded the home leg 3-0 after the opponents failed to show up. Singapore have not met 144th-ranked Yemen.
When asked if the Lions have got used to Yoshida's style, Hariss said: "The first (exchange with Yoshida) was encouraging, but it's still early days.
"He has his ideas and things that we know are good, moving forward. So we have to adapt as fast as possible to what is required at the Asian Cup or World Cup (qualifiers)."
The eight group winners and four best runners-up will qualify for the third round of the World Cup qualifiers and the 2023 Asian Cup in China.
Midfielder Zulfahmi Arifin, 27, is stoked by the challenge.
He said: "Baihakki (Khaizan) and (Khairul) Amri have shared their stories playing with powerhouses Uzbekistan and Saudi. So I know it'll be tough, but I like these kind of games.
"It won't be easy for us, but we need to prepare well for the upcoming qualifiers and it starts from now at the club (level), because the team will get together only a few weeks before the games.
"We have nothing to lose… It doesn't matter what the outcome is because we want to test ourselves against the big boys."
If the Lions are to start their campaign on a good note, they must bank on their home-ground advantage as they host their first two matches at the National Stadium - facing Yemen on Sept 5 and Palestine on Sept 10.
At the last edition, the Lions finished third at this group stage, behind Japan and Syria, but above Afghanistan and Cambodia.
They started off with a 4-0 away win over Cambodia and held Japan to a 0-0 draw in Saitama, but lost four of their remaining six games.
2022 WORLD CUP QUALIFIERS (ASIA)
GROUP A: China, Syria, Philippines, Maldives, Guam
GROUP B: Australia, Jordan, Taiwan, Kuwait, Nepal
GROUP C: Iran, Iraq, Bahrain, Hong Kong, Cambodia
GROUP D: Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan, Palestine, Yemen, Singapore
GROUP E: Bangladesh, Oman, India, Afghanistan, Qatar
GROUP F: Japan, Kyrgyzstan,Tajikistan, Myanmar, Mongolia
GROUP G: United Arab Emirates, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia
GROUP H: South Korea, Lebanon, North Korea, Turkmenistan, Sri Lanka
Regional rivalries at pre-World Cup
South-east Asian neighbours Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia found themselves drawn into Group G with the United Arab Emirates for their World Cup qualifying campaign yesterday.
Vietnam defeated Thailand to win the AFF Suzuki Cup last year, but the Thais are a different prospect, having formally appointed former Japan coach Akira Nishino yesterday.
Nishino led the Samurai Blue to the Round of 16 at last year's World Cup.
Meanwhile, two pairs of arch-rivals North Korea and South Korea, and Iran and Iraq were also drawn in the same groups.
But South Korea coach Paulo Bento insisted that facing the North was "nothing special".
"For us, it is a sport - the goal is to qualify," he said.
"The message I will share with the players when we play against North Korea is to give them the same respect we will have for any other teams." - AFP