We've stagnated, says Under-22 coach Bok after 2-2 with Mongolia
SINGAPORE U-22 2
(Irfan Fandi 18, 59)
MONGOLIA U-22 2
(Mungunshangai Tsogtbaartar 8, Purevdorj Erdenebat 45+1)
The Singapore national Under-22 football team can expect a barrage of criticism when they return from the Laotian capital of Vientiane tomorrow.
Handed a favourable draw, Richard Bok's boys had a decent chance of qualifying for the AFC Under-23 Championship in Qatar next year as one of five best second-placed teams in the 10 qualifying groups.
Losing 5-0 to Group J favourites China might have been expected, but being held to draws by the so-called minnows Laos and Mongolia were inexplicable and unacceptable.
Even before yesterday's final group game against Mongolia, the Republic's hopes of qualifying for the Finals next year were already extinguished.
Still, Bok's boys were expected to beat Mongolia by a decent margin yesterday, considering the Mongolians lost 7-0 to Laos in an earlier group game.
Instead, the U-22 boys found themselves trailing 2-1 going into half-time, before salvaging a 2-2 draw through Irfan Fandi.
Singapore also drew 0-0 with hosts Laos in their first group game last Friday.
"Countries we have considered minnows for so long are fast catching up, that's a fact. And the unfortunate thing is that we have been stagnant," Bok, who insisted that his team created enough chances to score against Mongolia who defended with "11 men behind the ball", told The New Paper in a post-match phone interview from Vientiane.
"There are those who believe we should still beat teams like Laos easily. Those guys haven't been paying attention to the football world around us."
But it wasn't all doom and gloom in Vientiane, according to Bok.
"There were some positives. Irfan Fandi had a good tournament. He did well in defence and going forward when we threw him up front against Mongolia," said Bok of the youngster's brace yesterday - the only goals Singapore scored in the tournament.
"For an 18-year-old to do well (in an U-22 tournament), that's something."
While Bok asserts that his charges could have done better if they had better preparation in the lead-up to the tournament, he said: "Maybe we're just not good enough at this level. At least we know where we stand now."
While June's South-east Asia (SEA) Games is an Under-23 tournament and will feature older players, Bok warned that Aide Iskandar's boys will have their work cut out if they are to win the elusive football gold medal.
"There are no weak teams in the region any more, and every game will be close," said Bok, who is the S.League's most successful coach.
Bok won four straight league titles with Warriors FC, and is a three-time Coach of the Year winner.
"We must really be up to the task, pull our socks up and really show desire - it's going to be tough."
Looking forward, Bok said that Singapore needs to start looking at the next generation of players and pay more attention to youth development.
As for his own future, he said: "I don't know what's next for me.
"My contract is up in June and I'm not sure if the FAS (Football Association of Singapore) wants me to carry on. If not, I'll have to move on."