Awayday blues

Posted on August 29, 2011

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Ahead of Singapore’s higher Chinese test in Kunming, style mesti ada takes a look at the Lions’ away record over the last decade – and the need for the Football Association of Singapore to get out their addressbooks.

Between January 2001 and August 2011, the Lions played 66 international matches on foreign soil, spanning two coaches – Jan Poulsen of Denmark and the incumbent, Radojko Avramovic of Serbia.

Khairul Amri in Dushanbe in 2007

Khairul Amri in Dushanbe in 2007

Of these 66 matches, Singapore won 16 (24.4%), drew 19 (28.7%) and lost 31 (46.9%). The majority of the fixtures were against teams from the Asian Football Confederation, although the Lions met Denmark and Poland in the 2010 King’s Cup in Thailand (and were hammered 5-1 and 6-1 for their taste of European football).

Take games against South-East Asian opponents out of the equation however, and the stats look more grim. There were 34 matches against non-ASEAN nations, of which Singapore won five (14.7%), drew five (14.7%) and lost 24 (70.6%).

Lowlights that Lions fans will remember with a wince include the 7-0 loss to Oman in Muscat in June 2004 (when a shocked Avramovic saw “every shot they took” fly past Hassan Sunny) and the 6-0 defeat at the hands of Iran in Tehran in January 2009 (where the Lions collapsed, conceding six after the sending-off of defender Ismail Yunos five minutes before half-time).

There were matches memorable for the right reasons too. In November 2004, the Lions were downed 1-0 by Japan in Saitama but had reason to be proud of a battling performance. For that World Cup qualifier, Avramovic placed into the heart of his midfield a 20-year-old Tengku Mushadad, who hadn’t even played a full S.League match at that point.

When Singapore edged Hong Kong 2-1 (goals from Noh Alam Shah and Itimi Dickson) in a friendly in August 2006, it was their first away win against non-ASEAN opposition under Avramovic.

More positive away results would follow: a 4-0 win over Palestine in a World Cup qualifier in Doha, with Shi Jiayi (2), John Wilkinson and Noh Alam Shah scoring in October 2007, and a 2-0 win (goals from Mustafic Fahrudin and Aleksandar Duric) over Kuwait in a friendly in Kuwait City in January 2008.

In between those matches was a significant away result. Holding a 2-0 lead from the first leg, Singapore met Tajikistan at the Pamir Stadium in Dushanbe with a place in the third round of World Cup qualifiers at stake in November 2007.

The Lions had suffered through food poisoning to five players and Jamshed Ismailov opening the scoring for the hosts after just two minutes. But Alam Shah netted a precious equaliser in the 26th minute and Singapore held their nerve to make it through to the third round for the first time.

Over the decade though, the Lions’ record against non-ASEAN teams is not only pretty poor – it doesn’t stretch widely enough either. Many of those 34 matches were qualifiers for the World Cup or Asian Cup, with a number of tournaments in Thailand (the King’s Cup) and Vietnam (Ho Chi Minh City Tournament) thrown in.

Opportunities for national players to gain experience of away-day conditions such as biased refereeing, unfamiliar environs, inclement weather and seldom-encountered opponents are few and far between. 34 matches over 10 years, many of them qualifiers, means that the Football Association of Singapore hasn’t been up to scratch in arranging friendlies and tours on foreign soil.

Most of the away friendlies the Lions have played have been arranged through Avramovic’s contacts – a number of them coming against his former teams Oman and Kuwait. The FAS top brass need to pick up the slack and provide more foreign exposure, not only for the senior national side but also for the National Football Academy teams.

Surely international contacts are not lacking within the FAS – the general secretary Winston Lee has often immersed himself in the seminars and other activities organised by FIFA and the AFC, and must have gleaned a wide range of contacts from these meetings. The technical director Slobodan Pavkovic and head of grassroots development Jita Singh should have extensive addressbooks as well.

What it comes down to then, is a matter of the FAS’ will to go the extra mile to arrange more awaydays. Perhaps then, the Lions will be less likely to be left wide-eyed and stunned by awayday quirks like icy, pelting rain or referees embracing the other team before the match (both experienced by the Lions in recent years), when we venture outside our kampong.

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