Singapore vs Syria: Can Stange’s Lions stun the Eagles from Damascus again?

2018 World Cup Qualifiers | National Stadium, Singapore Sports Hub | Tue 17 Nov | 8pm

Billed as

Realistically, a much more winnable game for the Lions (unlike against Japan).

The lowdown

Singapore Form

  • Singapore 0-3 Japan (WCQ)
  • Singapore 2-1 Cambodia (WCQ)
  • Singapore 1-0 Afghanistan (WCQ)
  • Syria 1-0 Singapore (WCQ)
  • Qatar 4-0 Singapore (Friendly)

Syria Form

  • Syria 5-2 Afghanistan (WCQ)
  • Syria 0-3 Japan (WCQ)
  • Oman 2-1 Syria (Friendly)
  • Cambodia 0-6 Syria (WCQ)
  • Syria 1-0 Singapore (WCQ)

The Lions ran and chased their hearts out, but the Japanese were simply quicker and technically more adept. In the end Singapore had to settle for a 3-0 home defeat, which was perhaps a fair reflection of proceedings on the night.

The home side was aiming to replicate the heroic 0-0 draw in Saitama and clearly set out to stifle the Samurai Blue for as long as possible, but early goals from Mu Kanazaki and Keisuke Honda meant coach Bernd Stange had to look for a Plan B.

It was something that never really came though; Safuwan Baharudin and Hafiz Sujad both put their headers wide of the mark as Southampton’s Maya Yoshida went on to place the final dagger in Singapore’s heart in the dying minutes.

The margin of the defeat seems respectable, but the stark reality remains – as Japan coach Vahid Halilhodzic mentioned, his goalkeeper never had to make a single save.

There is little time to cry over spilt milk though as Singapore take on Syria next in the World Cup/Asian Cup qualifiers.

While it seems increasingly unlikely that they will be able to top the group or qualify as one of the best group runners-up to advance to the third round of World Cup qualification, they are still well on course to finish third in Group E – an achievement that will put them into the third round of Asian Cup qualifiers.

While the Syrians are placed higher in the FIFA world rankings, Stange’s side should be buoyed by the fact that they have beaten the Middle East nation in the past.

Just a little over two years ago, a youthful-looking Lions side consisting of the likes of Shahfiq Ghani and Adam Swandi stunned the Eagles in a 2-1 win, with Khairul Amri and Gabriel Quak scoring the goals.

The Lions could not keep out Japan last week

None of those four are in the team this time around due to various reasons, but there is still enough quality at Stange’s disposal to pull off another upset.

That said, the Singaporeans will need to be wary of the Syrians who are the highest-scoring team in Group E with 18 goals from just five matches.

Fajr Ibrahim’s side will be pulling no punches in this clash as it attempts to collect as many points as possible to either finish top of the group or as one of the best runners-up to continue its World Cup dream.

Of course revenge will be on their minds after that shock 2-1 defeat at Jalan Besar two years ago, so all factors point towards an interesting battle at Kallang on Tuesday night.

Team News

Singapore seemed jaded in training after their exertions against Japan last Thursday, but it is unlikely there will be a major overhaul of Stange’s preferred line-up.

Izwan Mahbud is set to hold off Hassan Sunny again for the spot between the sticks after another good display against Japan, while Nazrul Nazari, Madhu Mohana and Baihakki Khaizan will form part of the back four.

Izzdin Shafiq and captain Hariss Harun should patrol the midfield, with Hafiz Sujad down the left and Safuwan just behind lone striker Fazrul Nawaz again.

The only uncertainty is likely to be at left back, where Shakir Hamzah and Shaiful Esah both stand an equal chance of starting, and right midfield with Faris Ramli and Sahil Suhaimi fighting it out for that one spot.

On the other hand, Syria are well rested after not being involved in qualifying last week. Coach Ibrahim has focused his efforts on developing the next generation of players, with the most experienced outfielder being midfielder Abdelrazaq Al Hussain who has 11 goals to go with 50 caps.

However that does not mean a lack of quality, judging by 23-year-old Osama Omari’s hat-trick and 22-year-old Mahmoud Al Mawas’ brace in the 5-2 thrashing of Afghanistan just last month.

The duo form a handy attacking trident with 21-year-old Omar Khribin, who has scored nine goals in 24 international appearances.

Midfielder Hariss Harun will be key to Singapore's hopes

Player to Watch: Hariss Harun

It is no secret that if you want to win big football matches, your best player(s) has to step up – Hariss Harun will be key for the Lions. 

Last Thursday night, the man with Singapore’s most expensive pair of legs (drawing a total monthly salary understood to be $42,000 per month) found it tough going up against Makoto Hasebe and Yosuke Kashiwagi – losing out on a number of 50-50 challenges.

That was understandable given the quality of the opposition, but the Johor Darul Ta’zim hard man will have to up his performance a notch this time around.

A win against Syria will be the best way to celebrate his 25th birthday, which falls two days after the match.

The Coaches

Singapore coach Bernd Stange will be hoping to replicate the 2-1 win two years ago, a result which remains one of his most notable achievements while at the Singapore helm.

Meanwhile Syria counterpart Fajr Ibrahim will attept to maintain his excellent record in his third stint with the Eagles, with seven wins and one draw in 10 matches so far.

Facts and Figures

  • The sides are separated by 20 places in the FIFA rankings – Singapore are ranked 152nd, while Syria are 132nd.
  • It is even in terms of their head-to-head record with both sides winning twice each
  • In the most recent encounter in September, it was Syria who edged the Singaporeans 1-0 in Muscat due to Oday Al-Jafal’s second-half goal

FourFourTwo predictions Editor Zee Ko: Singapore 1 Syria 2. I'd be very happy to be proven wrong, but the Japan game would have taken a lot out of the Lions. Syria might just take advantage with so much on the line.

Kenneth Tan: Singapore 1 Syria 1. It won’t be easy against a plucky Syrian side, but the Lions should be able to hold out for a draw.

Deepanraj Ganesan: Singapore 1 Syria 0. Stange might not admit it but this is essentially a must-win game for the Lions. With home advantage, I'm tipping – or at least hoping – Singapore can edge this game.

Sunny Naresh: Singapore 0 Syria 1. The Middle Eastern side will be fresher having not played last week and should do just enough to nick three points.

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Photos: Weixiang Lim/FourFourTwo