Lions' Asian Cup qualification hopes all but over after another defeat
Singapore's hopes of a historic qualification to the 2023 Asian Cup are all but over after a second straight loss in the qualifiers on Saturday (June 11) at the Dolen Omuzakov Stadium in Bishkek.
The world No. 158 Lions lost 1-0 to 114th-ranked Tajikistan. On Wednesday, they fell 2-1 to Kyrgyzstan.
Tajikistan, who previously beat Myanmar 2-0, now lead Group F with six points from two matches.
Hosts Kyrgyzstan are expected to beat Myanmar on Saturday evening to take them to six points, meaning Singapore, who face Myanmar on Tuesday, can finish no better than third in the four-team group.
The six group winners and five best second-placed teams will advance to next year's finals
Singapore's sole appearance was in 1984 as hosts and the wait will likely go on.
The wait also goes on for Takayuki Nishigaya, who was appointed in April, as he seeks his first victory as Lions coach after three games in charge. His first was a 2-0 loss to Kuwait in an international friendly earlier this month.
Against Tajikistan, he made one change to his starting XI, Christopher van Huizen replacing Nur Adam Abdullah at left wing-back.
The Lions, just like they did against Kyrgyzstan, created several chances but failed to make them count. Only two minutes had passed when Ikhsan Fandi was played through by Shah Shahiran but skewed his shot wide.
In the 32nd minute, Nazrul Nazri found himself in the box with time and space to pick out his teammates but opted to fire straight into the arms of the opposition goalkeeper.
Singapore were duly punished eight minutes into the second half when Mukhammadjhon Rahimov's cross from the left flank was turned in by Mabatshoev Shervoni just in front of goalkeeper Hassan Sunny.
The Lions thought they had rescued a point in the 76th minute when Safuwan Baharudin's header at the far post was turned in by Ikhsan, only for the referee to rule it out for offside.
In both matches in these qualifiers, the Lions have shown what new head coach Nishigaya wants of them. Under the Japanese tactician, there is a greater emphasis on aggressive pressing higher up the pitch whilst being quicker in attacking transitions.
The players have been able to do it, albeit not for the full 90 minutes. Against Kyrgyzstan, it was clear that the players had run out of steam by the 70th minute. The Lions had led till the 76th minute before succumbing to two goals.
Similarly, the Lions looked sharp in the first-half but were a shadow of themselves in the second period. By the hour mark, there was not much resistance as Tajikistan were able to create chance after chance.
Given the short time he has had to work with the squad, questions will be raised if Nishigaya's high-octane approach for the qualifiers was the best fit.
Football is a game of 90 minutes and till Nishigaya and his side learn that, a win will continue to elude them against the better teams in Asia.