Yemen result shows we can win without key players: Tatsuma Yoshida
Lions coach was without Faris, Shakir and Shawal for 2-1 win over Yemen
Singapore coach Tatsuma Yoshida said yesterday that the Lions' World Cup 2022 qualifying win away to Yemen was proof that his side can win without key players.
The 2-1 triumph at Al Muharraq Stadium in Bahrain - Yemen have to host their home matches at a neutral venue due to an ongoing civil war - was achieved without wingers Faris Ramli (personal reasons), Shawal Anuar (injury) and left-back Shakir Hamzah (disciplinary reasons).
The trio have been regular starters for the 45-year-old Japanese coach.
Despite the absentees, the Lions coach told The New Paper before the game that it was a "must-win" match, and his players duly obliged.
Said Yoshida: "I am really happy to get this good result for the Singapore fans back home.
"We said before the match that it was a must-win, and it is important that we got it.
"The result may be surprising for some people, but it is not a surprise for me.
"The boys have shown a great attitude and I trust them.
"We showed that we could win even without some important players (Faris, Shakir and Shawal). The others stepped up and proved themselves."
Among the others who also stepped up was Hafiz Nor, who bagged the winner.
The 31-year-old winger scored his first goal in his sixth cap in the 52nd minute of the Group D tie.
He cut inside his defender on the left flank and curled a brilliant strike from just outside the box which clipped the post and nestled into Salem Saeed's net.
Said Hafiz: "I am very happy to get my first international goal and it was one to remember.
"When I got the ball, the only thing in my mind was to beat the player and go for a shot; that was what coach told me to do in training and I am happy I did it."
While the absent Faris, Shakir and Shawal are key players for the Lions, perhaps no one is more important to Yoshida now than striker Ikhsan Fandi.
The youngest member of the squad at 20 opened the scoring against Yemen against the run of play when he met Shahdan Sulaiman's 19th-minute corner with a well-struck volley from just inside the box.
ONE CLEAN SHEET
However, Nasser Al-Gahwashi's goal five minutes from time meant that the Lions have kept only one clean sheet - in a 0-0 draw with Jordan at the Amman International Stadium last month - in Yoshida's nine matches in charge.
Despite that, there are positives to be taken after the Lions moved up to third in Group D, two points adrift of group leaders Uzbekistan.
The win over Yemen was Singapore's first away success against a higher-ranked Middle-Eastern team since another 2-1 win against Lebanon in Beirut in a World Cup qualifier in 2008.
Said Hafiz: "We did pretty well and followed the game plan; we played as a team and won as a team.
"Playing against Middle-Eastern opposition is not easy, but we achieved the win and everyone is very happy about it."