Qatar vs Singapore: Can the Lions stifle the 2022 World Cup hosts?
Khairul Amri’s moment of history (100th international cap for Singapore).
- LASK Linz 2-2 Qatar (Friendly)
- OIympiacos 1-1 Qatar (Friendly)
- Maldives 0-1 Qatar (WCQ)
- Scotland 1-0 Qatar (Friendly)
- Northern Ireland 1-1 Qatar (Friendly)
- Japan 0-0 Singapore (WCQ)
- Cambodia 0-4 Singapore (WCQ)
- Singapore 5-1 Brunei (Friendly)
- Bangladesh 1-2 Singapore (Friendly)
- Singapore 2-2 Guam (Friendly)
It’s surreal how quickly things can change in the world of football. A history-making 0-0 draw at Saitama against mighty Japan two-and-a-half months ago was all it took for optimism to return to Singaporean football.
Coupled with a neat 4-0 thrashing of Cambodia in Phnom Penh, the Lions find themselves in an unfamiliar position perched on top of the five-team Group E after two rounds of matches in the joint 2018 World Cup second round qualifiers and 2019 Asian Cup qualifiers.
With next Thursday’s crunch away group game against Syria in mind, the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) have lined up a friendly against Qatar in Doha to assess their abilities. Amidst all the optimism, it is worth noting Singapore have struggled against Middle Eastern opponents over the years.
Losses to teams like Oman, Jordan, Iraq and Bahrain are not uncommon, with only the 2-1 upset of Syria at the Jalan Besar Stadium two years ago bucking the trend. According to The New Paper, that was the only positive result in Singapore's last 15 matches against opponents from that region, conceding a whopping 45 goals and scoring just nine in the process.
Are Singapore now more mature and prepared to face these nations? It remains to be seen … so let’s move on to the Lions’ opponents Qatar, whose ultimate aim is to build a team competitive enough to compete in the 2022 World Cup which they are hosting.
Like Singapore, their immediate target is to do well in the current qualifiers, placed in Group C along with Hong Kong, China, Maldives and Bhutan.
The Qataris are steadily recovering from a disastrous start to the year where they were dumped out of the 2015 Asian Cup after three straight group losses.
Since then, they have focused their efforts on playing higher-ranked opponents and excelled along the way – beating Algeria and Slovenia 1-0, holding Northern Ireland to a 1-1 draw and falling to a narrow 1-0 loss against Scotland.
A 1-0 victory away against Maldives in June has them sitting third and they will use the upcoming games against Bhutan and Hong Kong to push themselves into the top two. In preparation for the September double-header, the Qataris underwent a two-week training camp across Switzerland and Austria, where they played three friendlies.
After holding Greek champions Olympiacos 1-1 and Austrian side LASK Linz 2-2, the Gulf State ended the tour with a third successive draw (1-1) against a side made up of German professional players on Monday. That set things up nicely for what could be a tricky clash against Singapore.
There are likely to be a few changes from the Singapore line-up that started the historic Japan draw.
While Izwan Mahbud’s heroics in Saitama have been well documented, Hassan Sunny’s sterling performances in the Thai Premier League (TPL) with Army United will have him pushing hard for a spot between the sticks.
Nazrul Nazari could be shifted up to right midfield to cope with the absence of Fazrul Nawaz (who stayed in Singapore due to club commitments), making Faritz Hameed the favourite to take up the spot on the right side of defence.
With Baihakki Khaizan involved in Johor Darul Ta’zim II’s 1-0 Malaysia Cup playoff victory against Sime Darby on Wednesday, Shakir Hamzah may step in to partner Madhu Mohana at the heart of defence.
Shaiful Esah has just also just flown to Doha after playing in Tampines Rovers’ 1-0 victory away against Harimau Muda, also on Wednesday, meaning the left-back spot could well go to the in-form Hafiz Sujad.
Faris Ramli is also likely to reprise his starting role after missing the Japan and Cambodia fixtures due to SEA Games duty, while Safuwan Baharudin should reprise his roving role just behind lone striker Khairul Amri.
Otherwise Izzdin Shafiq and Hariss Harun are set to provide some bite in the middle of the park.
Meanwhile Qatar are likely to line up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, which is not dissimilar to Singapore.
Ahmed Yasser Aziz and Mohammed Kasola should pair up in defence, with Ahmed El Sayed and Karim Boudiaf screening the back four.
Hassan Al Haidos, Ali Asadalla Qambar and Abdulaziz Hatem will form the attacking trident behind lone forward Mohammed Muntari.
Singapore will need to keep a close watch on 24-year-old Al Haidos, who scored a goal apiece in the three recent friendlies.
Player to Watch: Khairul Amri
Who else but him? Following in the illustrious footsteps of Baihakki Khaizan, Shahril Ishak, Daniel Bennett, Nazri Nasir, Aide Iskandar, S Subramani and Indra Sahdan, Amri is set to be the next centurion in Singapore football.
From the spectacular free-kick that sank eventual champions Iraq in the 2007 Asian Cup qualifiers, to scoring in three different Suzuki Cup finals, the 30-year-old’s 11-year international career has been nothing short of memorable.
A goal on Friday night will be the perfect way to mark his 100th appearance in the iconic red jersey and bring him to the 30-goal mark for the nation.
Last Five Meetings
- Singapore 0-2 Qatar (Nov '03)
- Qatar 2-0 Singapore (Nov '03)
- Qatar 2-0 Singapore (Feb '02)
- Qatar 2-0 Singapore (Feb '02)
- Qatar 5-1 Singapore (Jun '00)
This match pits together two coaches who are on the opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of their job prospects.
Singapore coach Bernd Stange’s contract will come to an end this September and there are no clear signs on whether it will be renewed. The 67-year-old German has been at the helm since May 2013.
Meanwhile José Daniel Carreño only stepped into the Qatar hotseat in June, succeeding Djamel Belmadi, who was sacked after a poor Asian Cup campaign in January.
The 52-year-old Uruguayan, who led Al-Nassr to the Saudi Arabia league and cup double last year, is tasked with leading the Gulf state to their first-ever World Cup finals ahead of the 2022 tournament.
Facts and Figures
- The teams are separated by 60 places in the FIFA rankings – Singapore are ranked 155th, Qatar are 95th.
- Qatar have the clear upper hand in head-to-head records. They have faced each other 11 times – with the Qataris winning nine, drawing one and losing just once.
- Singapore’s solitary win against Qatar came 22 years ago in the 1994 World Cup qualifiers, where current co-assistant coach Fandi Ahmad’s 84th-minute goal separated the two sides.
- Singapore haven’t scored against Qatar in their last four encounters.
FFT.com Editor Zee Ko: I have a feeling that Bernd Stange might just make it interesting for the FAS bigwigs with his contract running out. I'm backing Singapore to squeak out a morale-boosting 1-0 win.
Kenneth Tan: Our record against Middle East nations over the years speaks for itself. That said, the Lions should take confidence from their past couple of results and provide a stiff challenge. Tipping Qatar to just nip it 2-1.
FFT Columnist Neil Humphreys: There are about 60 places between Qatar and Singapore in the FFIA rankings and the Lions do not travel well to the Middle East, but if they can build on their great Japanese result, they might pinch a draw. 1-1.
FFT.com Managing Editor James Dampney: The conditions will be difficult and Singapore won’t have had long to acclimatise. The run will be an enormous benefit ahead of the serious stuff against Syria next week, but the Lions will suffer a 2-0 defeat here.
The Straits Times' Deepanraj Ganesan: 3-1 to Qatar. The heat won't be easy on the Lions but I expect them to run the hosts close.