Syria vs Singapore: Can the Lions upset the odds once again?

2018 World Cup Qualifiers | Sultan Qaboos Stadium | Thurs 3 Sep | 8pm AST (12am Friday SGT)

Billed as

Another tough match for the Lions against a Middle Eastern opponent.

The lowdown

SYRIA FORM

  • Afghanistan 0-6 Syria (WCQ)
  • Oman 1-3 Syria (Friendly)
  • Lebanon 2-2 Syria (Friendly)
  • Tajikistan 2-3 Syria (Friendly)
  • Jordan 0-1 Syria (Friendly) 

SINGAPORE FORM

  • Qatar 4-0 Singapore (Friendly)
  • Japan 0-0 Singapore (WCQ)
  • Cambodia 0-4 Singapore (WCQ)
  • Singapore 5-1 Brunei (Friendly)
  • Bangladesh 1-2 Singapore (Friendly)

Back down to earth

After the stunning away draw against Japan in June, Singapore were given a reality check last Friday when they took on 2022 World Cup hosts Qatar in Doha.

After keeping the Gulf state at bay for almost an hour with some dogged defending, things went terribly wrong as the Lions finally conceded in the 56th minute. Legs began to tire and heads dropped as the Qataris went on to score another three goals in the next 24 minutes to complete a 4-0 rout.

If it sounds all too familiar, that is because this isn't the first time Singapore have come up against Middle Eastern opposition and ended up on the wrong end of a 4-0 scoreline. It was only two years ago when they took on Syria in Tehran and despite keeping the deficit to a single goal with 10 minutes remaining, they ultimately conceded another three goals.

Surely this will be a cause for concern for Bernd Stange's men as they take on Syria yet again, this time round in the joint 2018 World Cup and 2019 Asian Cup qualifier.

The Qasioun Eagles are on a slow but steady rebuilding process after failing to make it to the 2015 Asian Cup, winning six and drawing one in their last seven matches. That includes friendly victories against Malaysia, Jordan, Tajikistan and Oman.

Syria also got off to the best possible start in the qualifiers by hitting six past Afghanistan without reply at home. The victory means they currently take up second spot in the five-team Group E, a point behind surprise leaders Singapore but with a game in hand.

Fajr Ibrahim’s men will host the Lions in Muscat, Oman before travelling to Phnom Penh to face Cambodia next Tuesday, but their preparations for this September double-header was slightly hampered by the cancellation of a friendly against Bahrain in late August.

Will that have any significant impact on this crunch Group E encounter? It remains to be seen.

Team News

Izwan Mahbud is set to edge out Hassan Sunny in the fight to be Singapore's No.1 after a good 45-minute display against Qatar, making five good saves and keeping the score at 0-0 going into half-time.

Meanwhile, Nazrul Nazari is expected to retain his spot at right-back, with Baihakki Khaizan and Madhu Mohana lining up at the heart of defence. At left back, it will be a tough tussle between Shaiful Eshah, Shakir Hamzah and Hafiz Sujad. 

Faris Ramli is likely to be pushed to the left of midfield to accommodate the return of Fazrul Nawaz. The Warriors FC forward, who missed the Qatar defeat due to club commitments, should reprise his role on the opposite flank. 

Otherwise Izzdin Shafiq and Hariss Harun once again will pair up in the middle of the park, with Safuwan Baharudin playing in the No.10 role behind lone forward Khairul Amri as they attempt to find a way past Syrian goalkeeper and captain Mosab Balhous, who is set to make his 100th international appearance in this match.

In front of Balhous should be a back four of Hamdi Al Masri, Moayad Ajan, Omar Al Midani and Alaa Al Shbli.

The midfield is likely to consist of Abdelrazaq Al Hussain, Mahmoud Al Mawas, Oday Jalal and Zahir Midani. Al-Riyadh playmaker Abdelrazaq, who has scored 11 goals in 45 international appearances, is expected to play a pivotal role again.

Up front will be the experienced 32-year-old Raja Rafe, who has an impressive 32 goals in 67 appearances, and the promising 21-year-old Omar Khribin, who has registered five strikes to go with his 18 caps. If needed, Sanharib Malki could also be summoned off the bench.

All three netted in the 6-0 mauling of Afghanistan in June and will be keen to add to their tallies.

Baihakki Khaizan has been turning out for Johor Darul Tazim this season

Player to Watch: Baihakki Khaizan

With 117 caps to his name, Baihakki will likely be the most experienced starter on the field for Singapore.

The 31-year-old endured a barrage of criticism for Singapore’s early AFF Suzuki Cup exit last November, but answered his critics in fine style with a rock-solid performance against the likes of Keisuke Honda and Shinji Okazaki in the historic draw against Japan.

The Qatar game did not turn out well for ‘Bai’ though as he was guilty of giving the ball away cheaply, which led to the hosts scoring their fourth and final goal. The Johor Darul Ta’zim II centre-back will surely be looking for redemption once again in Muscat. 

The Coaches

LAST THREE MEETINGS

  • Syria 4-0 Singapore (Nov '13)
  • Singapore 2-1 Syria (Oct '13)
  • Singapore 4-1 Syria (Jul '78) 

This match could go a long way to deciding Singapore coach Bernd Stange’s future, with his contract set to run out at the end of September.

According to a report in the Sunday Times, the 67-year-old German is poised to earn a six-month contract extension as long as the Lions avoid a heavy defeat.

On the other hand, Syrian counterpart Fajr Ibrahim is hoping that third time’s the charm when it comes to coaching the national team.

The 51-year-old, who was previously at the helm during two separate stints in 2006 and 2008, is undefeated in five games since being re-appointed this January. His overall record looks pretty good too, with 27 wins, 10 draws and just eight losses.

Facts and Figures

  • The two sides are separated by 38 places in the FIFA rankings – Singapore are ranked 155th, while Qatar are ranked 117th
  • Surprisingly enough, Singapore have the upper hand in terms of the head-to-head record, winning twice and losing once
  • Syria are unbeaten in their last seven games, while Singapore have lost just one of their last six
  • Singapore keeper Izwan Mahbud has not conceded on international duty in his last 255 minutes. The last goal he let in was against Mui’z Sisa in the 5-1 thrashing of Brunei in May
  • A goal against Syria will take Singapore forward Khairul Amri to 30 international goals

FourFourTwo predictions

FFT.com Editor Zee Ko: The loss to Qatar was disappointing, but there's much more at stake this time round. I'm tipping Singapore to put in a magnificent effort against Syria for a 3-1 win.

Kenneth Tan: Once again, I do not fancy the Lions’ chances of creating an upset. Another battling performance, but Syria should take this 2-0.

Yahoo Sports' Teng Kiat: 3-0 to Syria. The hosts will prove too strong for Singapore, but Izwan should keep the scoreline respectable.

SuperSports 360's Firdaus Khan: The Japan result was quickly forgotten after the Qatar thrashing. I'm expecting a bigger bus against Syria. 0-0.

TODAY's Noah Tan: I think Singapore will win 2-1. I've put my reputation on the line, you wait and see.

VOXSPORTS' Nigel Chin: 1-0 win for Singapore. The Lions will want to prove their doubters wrong once again.

The Straits Times’ Deepanraj Ganesan: 0-0. Another shut out for the Lions.