Syria vs Singapore: Lions face tough Middle East opposition in Suzuki Cup tune-up

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Friendly| Tuanku Abdul Rahman Stadium| Wed 9 Nov | 8pm 

Billed as

A game against opponents Sundram labelled as being similar to AFF Suzuki Cup hosts Philippines

The lowdown

Syria Form

  • Qatar 1-0 Syria (WCQ)
  • China 0-1 Syria (WCQ)

  • Syria 0-0 South Korea (WCQ)

  • Uzbekistan 1-0 Syria (WCQ)

  • Tajikistan 0-0 Syria (Friendly)

Singapore Form

  • Hong Kong 2-0 Singapore (Friendly)

  • Singapore 0-0 Malaysia (Friendly)

  • Bahrain 3-1 Singapore (Friendly)

  • Cambodia 2-1 Singapore (Friendly)

  • Vietnam 3-0 (AET) Singapore (AYA Bank Cup)

There we go – the final week of preparations before Singapore jet off to Manila, Philippines for their quest to do well at the AFF (ASEAN Football Federation) Suzuki Cup.

The prestigious biennial tournament is something that the Lions’ faithful hold in high regard, having won it four times in 1998, 2004, 2007 and 2012 (a feat which is equalled only by Thailand).

Not many are feeling optimistic of their chances this time round though. A slew of poor results, including a lowly 2-1 defeat to Cambodia in July, meant they dropped to their lowest international ranking ever at 171st.

Drawn in a tough group along with holders Thailand, hosts Philippines and tournament dark horses Indonesia, it takes a brave soul to bet on them making it out of the group stages.

However, stranger things have happened before, as evident in the 1998, 2004 and 2012 winning campaigns — the Lions were written off even before a ball was kicked but ended up lifting the trophy each time.

While coach V Sundramoorthy has insisted that the results usually do not matter in friendlies, it will be good for their confidence should they fare well in these two final tune-up games against Syria and Cambodia (on Sunday).

On the other hand, Syria have done pretty well in the past couple of years – rising to one of their highest international rankings in recent years at 96th, despite the country being embroiled in a civil war for the past five years.

The Qasioun Eagles are currently competing in the final round of qualifiers for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, although their chances of making it there remains slim.

With four points from their first four group matches, they are occupying fourth spot in Group A. Iran and Uzbekistan takes up the two automatic qualifying spots at the moment, with 10 and nine points respectively.

However, there is still every chance of them achieving a third-place finish that guarantees a two-legged playoff against the third-placed team of Group B. The winner of that tie will then face the fourth-placed CONCACAF team in a two-legged playoff for the elusive World Cup spot.

A good result against Singapore in Paroi should give Ayman Hakeem’s men the mental edge as they look to topple mighty Iran next Tuesday at the same venue.

Team News

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It was hard for Singapore to contain Syria both times they faced off last year

Singapore have a pretty experienced squad at their disposal, with seven out of the 30 called-up players over the age of 30 – including the foreign-born duo of Daniel Bennett and Mustafic Fahrudin.

There should not be much surprises in Sundram’s starting eleven. So do expect Hassan Sunny to start in goal, Bennett to pair up with Baihakki Khaizan in central defence, Hariss Harun to anchor the midfield, while Safuwan Baharudin plays a roving role behind lone striker Khairul Amri.

Meanwhile Syria are considerably the younger side, with only two out of their 20-strong squad over 30 – one of them being captain Sanharib Malki.

Key Battle: Sanharib Malki vs Baihakki Khaizan

It will be an interesting battle between two 32-year-olds, who are currently unattached.

The 1.80m forward Malki, who has experience of playing in Belgium, Greece and Holland, is now without a club after being released by Turkish top-flight club Kasimpasa. He scored 11 goals in 61 appearances over three seasons at the club.

He will be up against 1.9m defender Baihakki, a three-time Suzuki Cup winner with the Lions and had played for Johor Darul Ta’zim II in the Malaysia Premier League for the past two seasons, but is currently on the lookout for a new club after being released by the Southern Tigers.

The Coaches

Singapore’s V Sundramoorthy is under pressure to deliver results, after a less-than-desired start to his reign which saw him win one, draw one and lose four out of his six official games since taking charge back in May.

In comparison, Syria counterpart Ayman Hakeem has done slightly better since succeeding Fajr Ibrahim in May – winning two, drawing three and losing two so far.  

Last Five Meetings

  • Singapore 1-2 Syria (WCQ, Nov ’15)

  • Syria 1-0 Singapore (WCQ, Sep ’15)

  • Syria 4-0 Singapore (Asian Cup Qualifiers, Nov ‘13)

  • Singapore 2-1 Syria (Asian Cup Qualifiers, Oct ‘13)

  • Singapore 4-1 Syria (Merdeka Tournament, Jul ‘78)

Facts and Figures

  • Both sides met twice in the World Cup qualifiers (WCQ) in 2015, with Syria triumphing 1-0 in Muscat, Oman and 2-1 in Singapore.

  • Since the last meeting in November 2015, Syria have risen 36 places from 132nd to 96th while Singapore have dropped 19 places from 152th to 171st.

  • Singapore have failed to win their last five international games, while Syria have won just once out of their last five outings.

  • Both sides have problems in front of goal recently – in their last five matches, Singapore scored just twice while Syria scored only one.

FourFourTwo prediction

Singapore will battle hard, but Syria should have the quality to eke out a 2-1 win.  

Photos: FAS