Lions make second round of World Cup qualifiers after 3-1 aggregate win over Guam
If the aim was to avoid an embarrassing end to their 2026 World Cup qualifying campaign at the first hurdle, then it’s mission accomplished for the Lions after they edged out world No. 201 Guam 3-1 on aggregate.
In the second leg of their first-round tie at Dededo’s modest 5,000-seater GFA National Training Centre on Tuesday, the Republic eked out a 1-0 win via substitute Shawal Anuar’s 81st-minute goal to progress to the next round, which also double up as Asian Cup qualifiers.
But there remains a lot of work to be done if 157th-ranked Singapore are to give a respectable account of themselves. They start their Group C campaign with a trip to world No. 26 South Korea on Nov 16. China (80th) and South-east Asian giants Thailand (112th) are the other teams in the group.
Against Guam – a bunch of semi-pros, amateurs and university students from a population of 170,000 – the Lions struggled to break them down in front of 1,012 spectators.
Despite just a five-day turnaround and a 16-hour journey to Guam, Singapore coach Takayuki Nishigaya made just one switch in his 3-5-2 system with Ilhan Fandi starting in place of Shawal, while the hosts made three changes.
Perhaps one positive was how the Lions withstood the challenging conditions, which included a 2.45pm kick-off and opponents who were keen to persist with not just counter-attacks and set-pieces on an artificial pitch, but also rough-house tactics designed to rile, with Dane Agustin sent off in added time. Under the hot sun, the Lions were up for the physical test and kept their cool.
But unlike the first leg at the National Stadium on Thursday, when they fashioned numerous clear chances but won just 2-1, Singapore did not create that many in Guam and were again wasteful with the few opportunities they had.
Song Ui-young could only shoot straight at the goalkeeper in the eighth minute, while Hariss Harun saw a tame header cleared off the line in the 56th minute. With 15 minutes to go, substitute Iqbal Hussain also saw his effort tipped over the bar.
The introduction of Shawal and Iqbal did add more fluidity as the duo combined for the match winner and Shawal’s 10th international goal. But overall, the delivery from wide positions and passes in the final third lacked quality.
At the other end, they were lucky not to be penalised when Lionel Tan got entangled with Marcus Lopez in their box early on, and had goalkeeper Hassan Sunny to thank for denying Lopez from close range before half-time. Zulqarnaen Suzliman also cleared off the line with seven minutes to go.
Ultimately, the deficiencies were not punished and their World Cup and Asian Cup hopes live on, but the mighty Koreans, coached by Jurgen Klinsmann and captained by Son Heung-min, may not be so kind in a month’s time.