Uzbekistan to meet Lions after late arrival
They face Singapore tonight, after trouncing Yemen 5-0 last Thursday
Minutes before the pre-match press conference at the Oasia Hotel in Novena yesterday, Uzbekistan goalkeeper Abdumavlon Abdujalilov picked up a ball that was propped up on the table in the conference room.
The uncapped player then asked an official if that ball will be used for the World Cup qualifier tonight, when they face Singapore at the National Stadium.
His interest piqued, he held the ball in his hands for more than a minute. Then he snapped a picture of the ball and sent it to a telegram group that his national teammates share.
It makes sense that Abdujalilov, 25, was sending every little piece of information that he had.
He was the only Uzbekistan player in Singapore as of yesterday afternoon, while his teammates and their coach Vadim Abramov arrived only late last night.
This means that their first taste of the National Stadium will come only minutes before kick-off when they warm up.
A sign of ill preparation or supreme confidence? Ask the Uzbek camp and they'll point to the latter.
The White Wolves come into the qualifier against Singapore on the back of a 5-0 thumping of Yemen last Thursday.
It was Abramov's first match in charge in his second stint, after being installed as Uzbekistan coach following the sacking of Argentine Hector Cuper.
Cuper was in charge when Uzbekistan suffered a surprise 2-0 defeat by Palestine in the opening round of their World Cup qualifiers last month.
But the latest soundbites from the Uzbeks will be a cause for worry for the Lions' backline.
The coaching changes have rejuvenated the side and the new philosophy will be about attacking their opponents, revealed Abdujalilov.
He said: "Our supporters and football community had expected an attacking style of football (from Cuper), but we did not get that. And that is why we have changed the coach.
"It was very welcomed by everyone. The players feel freer in terms of the style of playing.
"The spirit within the team has changed for the better."
Assistant coach Timur Kapadze added: "After the coaching change, we have changed our style and philosophy. The result against Yemen showed that we have more desire and we are more attack-minded."
The Lions' camp, still smarting from their 3-0 defeat by Saudi Arabia, sang a similar tune as well, with coach Tatsuma Yoshida, promising to get at the visitors, despite Singapore being ranked 69 places below the 88th-ranked Uzbekistan.
"It is important that we try to attack," said Yoshida. "If we only defend, we can do that and have 11 players defending in the box and lose the game 1-0 or 2-0.
"But that is not good for us. We have to attack and look for their weak points. If we don't try, we have no chance.
"If we try, we have every chance of getting a result."
Lions custodian Izwan Mahbud shared that the players believe in the Japanese tactician's approach.
He said: "I have played under a few coaches and Yoshida is different. He wants us to play the ball forward.
"Coach Yoshida has given us a confidence boost for us to play it forward and not be scared to make mistakes.
"Uzbekistan are strong but we will try our very best."
The last time Lions hosted them was in June 2008, when there was a flurry of goals in a 7-3 victory for Uzbekistan.
With both sides promising to attack tonight, both goalkeepers could be in for a busy night.
Maybe that's why the Uzbekistan custodian Abdujalilov was getting familiar with the ball pre-game.
Singapore fans will be hoping that he will be picking it out of the net instead.