On the day Team Singapore earned their 1000th gold medal at the Southeast Asian Games through the swimmers, Singapore’s men’s footballers reached yet another milestone of their own.
A 0-0 draw against Games perennial minnows Laos, Singapore’s Young Lions were dumped out of the competition even though they still have one more match to play against Malaysia in Group B.
Losses against Thailand and Vietnam in their earlier group matches had made beating Laos a necessity to stay in the hunt, albeit with slim hopes.
But even then, finding a way past Laos seemed an impossible task.
Singapore’s women’s team faced the same result as well, after a 1-0 loss to Cambodia, and having gone down to Thailand in the opening match, the final group clash against Laos is now considered dead rubber.
BACK TO THE MEN’S TEAM
Singapore last reached the semi-finals of the SEA Games back in 2013, with players like Hariss Harun, Afiq Yunos, Faritz Hameed, Zulfahmi Arifin and Sahil Suhaimi in the mix.
Since then, the Young Lions, in whatever shape and form, have not tasted what entering the semi-finals is actually like.
Aide Iskandar (2015), Richard Tardy (2017), Fandi Ahmad (2019), Nazri Nasir (2021) and now Philippe Aw have all not been able to take the team past the group stages, with only Aide among this lot who managed to earn Singapore a medal at the 2013 edition in Myanmar after a playoff against Malaysia in the third and fourth placing clash.
This means players like M Anumanthan, Adam Swandi, Irfan Fandi, Ikhsan Fandi, Amirul Adli, Joshua Pereira, Hami Syahin, Saifullah Akbar, Zharfan Rohaizad and many many more do not really know what it is like to make the knockout stages at the SEA Games.
Correspondingly, Singapore’s national men’s team have only made the knockout stages of the biennial ASEAN Football Federation Championships only once since winning the trophy in 2012 – at the end of 2021 when Singapore hosted the event following the relaxation of pandemic measures.
2014, 2016, 2018, 2022 – group stage exits.
At the ongoing 2023 SEA Games, Singapore’s Young Lions have also not been able to score goals on their own, with the two goals to their name so far being own goals gifted by Thailand and Vietnam.
Against Laos, Syahadat Masnawi ballooned a penalty, which would have given Singapore a chance of a victory and having a Singaporean player listed as a goal scorer.
BACK TO THE DRAWING BOARD, THE NEED FOR ACCOUNTABILITY
For fans, the early exit provides for a general feeling of deja vu, and frustration.
Having boldly made qualifying for the World Cup an aspirational target in 2019, perhaps the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth and Football Association of Singapore would be better served if they used taxpayers contributions more effectively when it comes to funding football.
For now, even making the semi-finals of the SEA Games seems an impossible task.
When Unleash the Roar was announced in 2021, the CEO of government agency Sport Singapore Lim Teck Yin declared that Singapore should win the SEA Games gold by 2027.
That is just four years away, and based on current results, it appears to be yet another pipe dream.
Like Goal 2010 and Goal 2034.
MAIN PHOTO: SINGAPORE NATIONAL OLYMPIC COUNCIL/LIM WEIXIANG