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Honeymoon Period is Over for Coach Yoshida

To sum up, what went wrong in Saudi Arabia for the Singapore National Team is pretty straightforward when the writings were already on the wall prior to the resumption of the campaign.

Before the halt of the FIFA World Cup/AFC Asian Cup joint qualifiers almost two years ago due to the COVID-19 pandemic, everything was rosy for the perennial underachieving Lions.

Tatsuma Yoshida is Singapore National Football Team Coach
Coach Tatsuma Yoshida's (filed) honeymoon period is over 

Under Japanese coach Tatsuma Yoshida, the four-time Asean champions found a new lease of life by chalked up two wins, one draw, and two defeats in Group D of the joint qualifiers - a performance that was lauded by many in a group that included regional heavyweights like Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan.

Unfortunately, unforeseen circumstances saw the Lions and the rest of the region endured a lengthy international break since the postponement of the qualifying matches last August was announced by both FIFA and AFC, that positive momentum enjoyed by the Singaporeans had to come to a premature end.

The ongoing pandemic proved to be a challenge to every aspect of our daily lives and not just to football too.

With stringent travelling restrictions imposed due to the pandemic, it was impossible to schedule any friendly games in recent months to give the Lions the much-needed match practice with the sparring game against Afghanistan in UAE was the only warning up before the resuming of the joint qualifiers.

It was easy to single out the unavailability of the triumvirate of skipper Hariss Harun, defence lynchpin Safuwan Baharudin, and target man Ikhsan Fandi as the key reason why the Lions could not live up to the expectations but any keen observer would also notice the comments made by Coach Yoshida before the beginning of the joint campaign.

A file picture of Singapore football defender Safuwan Baharudin
Safuwan Baharudin (filed) was one of those out of action

Not once but twice had the one-time Jurong FC player highlighted the lack of playing time of some of those he selected.

Speaking to The New Paper before the friendly against Afghanistan, the 47-year-old stated the objectives of the said friendly before added on:" ... some of them did not get many playing opportunities in their clubs, they can use this game to get more (playing) time and get back the match-playing feeling.", a similar quote as mentioned in a separate interview with the FAS website after the match played at the Iranian Club in Dubai.

Winger Hafiz Nor, who started the game against Palestine, was one of those short of the playing time when one online portal reported the Lion City Sailors player only "played 61 minutes of SPL football out of 990 minutes."

It is not rocket science that our aim was to make it to the Asian Cup, given the positive start to the joint qualifying campaign two years ago and definitely more game time should be given to those over the age of 23 in the Singapore Premier League (SPL) for much-needed match practice.

Shouldn't the league authority scrap the controversial U23 quota just for this season to fulfill the Asian Cup dream?

Shakir Hamzah in Singapore National Football Team training in 2019
Shakir Hamzah's (filed) late withdrawal sent shockwaves 

However, with the biennial SEA Games also scheduled at the end of this year (despite media reports claimed it might be postponed), the existing U23 quota has to remain in the place for such purpose in the chase of that elusive regional glory which still remains out of reach despite success in the senior Asean level.

With such unfavourable circumstances and coupled with the shock withdrawal of Shakir Hamzah before the closing match against Saudi Arabia which saw the Lions losing three-nil, one thing for sure is - the honeymoon period for Coach Yoshida is over, even though it was not entirely his fault.


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