The last and only time that Singapore participated in the Asian Cup was way back in 1984 and after a disappointing 2-1 loss to Chinese Taipei in qualification for the 2019 edition their hopes of doing so this time around have taken a huge blow with serious questions needing to be answered around the future of coach V. Sundramoorthy.
That prior qualification only came about as Singapore hosted the tournament and the way that the current coach has the team playing it’s as if the side is trying to sleepwalk its way back to the worst elements of football from the early 1980s.
A time and place, notably in the nation’s colonial forebears, where physicality was more important than touch, where hopeful long balls were regarded as a legitimate tactical approach and where there was value awarded to ‘winning the second ball’ rather than eliminating the need for that contest through controlled possession.
As worrying as the result was at home, of far greater concern was yet another tepid performance that showed the coach is quite simply out of his depth and stuck in a tactical time warp that’s setting back the sport on the island nation and doing absolutely nothing to have the Lions endear themselves to a populace that have moved on to watching ‘modern’ football just as the coach seems intent on walking things back.
Outside of the first five minutes, Singapore were outplayed by a opponent that sits -for now – below them on the FIFA rankings and who have far less international ‘pedigree’ and not even a professional league from which to draw their players.
Of pressing concern though was that they were allowed to by a prehistoric tactical setup that saw the back four launch more long-range missiles than many rogue nations have in recent years.
If it wasn’t Shakir Hamzah on the left, it was Madhu Mohana on the right and if it wasn’t Daniel Bennett it was his central partner Irfan Fandi repeatedly and without any clear intent simply aiming hopeful long punts downfield in a bid to play their way back several decades.
This must be soul crushing for a player such as Hariss Harun, one of the finest central midfielders in Southeast Asia, who despite consistently dropping to try and pick up the ball saw it time after time after time after time fizz over his head on the way to the other end of the pitch.
FT: Singapore ?? 1 – 2 Chinese Taipei
— AFC Asian Cup (@afcasiancup) June 10, 2017
Clearly the back four are more than capable of playing short and clearly the wide and central midfield players are equally adept at dropping and trying to maintain possession so the only possible deduction is this is a tactical option deployed by the coach.
If not, it was something he failed to adjust and that’s equally as damning.
For a man who was known as the ‘Dazzler’ during his playing days the only light emanating from his tactical philosophy is from the stars shimmering around the heads of somnambulant supporters trying to stay awake through this ancient aerial assault.
There are so few club or national teams that still employ this way of playing that it’s almost a curiosity to watch, yet it’s equally infuriating that a squad that’s more than talented and capable enough to try and control the tempo of a contest against the nations they face in this phase of qualifying are simply not being allowed to.
For sustained periods against Chinese Taipei there was almost half a pitch length between the deep lying backline and what was almost a front five with acres of space in between simply laying vacant.
Sundramoorthy’s team struggled to string two passes together.
There was little to no attempt from the three advanced midfielders to drop and try and offer options to patiently build up from the back and rather they were there seemingly to try and feed off whatever scraps they could be fed by Safuwan Baharudin.
That in itself is an enduring curiosity as to why you’d have one of the nation’s better defenders playing as some kind of an aerial trampoline, but it’s all so simplistic in its creation and execution and it was all so easy for a visiting side – under a caretaker coach – to handle.
After the humiliation of asking the side to defend almost to the complete exclusion of any attacking intent at last year’s AFF Suzuki Cup we now have this bygone long-ball game and you have to wonder if everyone at the FAS is also sleeping through things.
The most annoying part is that Singapore clearly has the players not only to be competitive in this group but indeed to qualify for the 2019 event in the UAE but unless something changes they evidently won’t.
The boost of reaching a tournament such as the Asian Cup and what that will do for football in Singapore is absolutely massive but the way the team is being instructed to play at the moment there is almost no point in qualifying if they continue to approach matches as if they’re not good enough to control them.
The staggering number of aimless passes was enough to provide an opponent such as Chinese Taipei with countless opportunities to score and if it wasn’t for the outstanding Hassan Sunny yet again saving them the score could have – and should have – been even greater.
Give that much possession to Argentina next week and it’s only the thought of being gracious guests that could stop them chalking up some kind of record score.
The question that those at the FAS and those in the stands need to ask is this what they want their nation’s football team to represent?
A team that has ‘evolved’ from being one of the most bloody-minded, unambitious, units seen in recent editions of the Suzuki Cup through to one that mindlessly feeds hopeful punts forward to an out-of-position central defender and in the process bypasses a superb technician in midfield?
One that would rather play the ‘percentages’ on second balls rather than eliminate the need to even contest them and one who even when they do win them still seem intent on crossing rather than passing the ball into the box?
A team that represents football ideals from the time that the nation gained independence rather than the world we currently live in?
This is what they have become and what the players are being forced to endure under a coach that now has one of the worst current winning records in Asian football and still refuses to allow his team the freedom to control matches by holding possession and not simply launching their way back to how things used to be.
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