Singapura / 新加坡 / சிங்கப்பூர் / Singapore
- Capital: Singapore
- Official Languages: English, Malay, Mandarin, Tamil
- Nicknames: The Lions; The Lionesses
- Association: Football Association of Singapore (FAS)
- FIFA Code: SIN
- Best World Cup Result (Men): Not Qualified
- Best World Cup Result (Women): Not Qualified
- Best Asian Cup Result (Men): Group Stage (1984)
- Best Asian Cup Result (Women): Third Place (1977)
- Best AFF Cup Result (Men): WINNERS (1998, 2004, 2007, 2012)
- Best AFF Cup Result: (Women): Group Stage (Various)
- Highest FIFA Ranking (Men): 72nd (August 1993)
- Highest FIFA Ranking (Women): 82nd (December 2009)
- Lowest FIFA Ranking (Men): 173rd (October 2017)
- Lowest FIFA Ranking (Women): 148th (September 2015)
- Most Capped Player: Daniel Bennett – 145 caps
- Top Scorer: Fandi Ahmad – 55 goals
The Republic of Singapore (Republik Singapura / 新加坡共和国 / சிங்கப்பூர் குடியரசு) is an island city-state in Southeast Asia, situated close to the equator, and located off the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula. Originally one of the most important trading ports and economic centres within the British Empire, and considered the “Gibraltar of the East” in relation to its strategic naval location of controlling the Straits of Malacca (which divides the country from the Indonesian island of Sumatra to its east), the country received its independence in 1965 when the city-state succeeded from their northern neighbour of Malaysia.
Football was brought to the city in the late 19th century by the British, with the Singapore Amateur Football Association being established in 1892, making it one of the first places in Southeast Asia to play the game. Their first recorded game came in 1948 when they beat a Republic of China side 1-0 in the city, four years prior to Singapore becoming a member of FIFA in 1952, and six years before being a member of the AFC in 1954. The nickname of the team, “The Lions”, originates from the etymology of the city, with Malay name of the country “Singapura” originating from the Sanskrit word for “Lion City”.
Despite their long history of playing football, Singapore has not had much success within the Asian international football scene. They have only appeared in one Asian Cup, when they hosted the continental competition in 1984, having regularly withdrawn from qualifying in earlier editions of the competition. Despite a 2-0 victory over India, and a 1-1 draw with Iran, they were unable to progress to the knockout stage of the competition. Alas since hosting the competition, they have failed to qualify for any Asian Cup forthright, with the team reaching the Third Round of the qualification phase for the 2019 Asian Cup, but finishing bottom of their group behind Bahrain, Turkmenistan, and Taiwan. Singapore are scheduled to play in the Third Round of qualifying once again, this time for the 2023 Asian Cup, and will be hoping to obtain one of the 11 available slots remaining for the upcoming tournament held in China.
Singapore have experienced more success in the regional AFF Championship, where the national side has won the competition four times, with their most recent victory coming in the 2012 edition of the tournament. In that tournament, they overcame the Philippines 1-0 on aggregate in the semi-finals before beating Thailand 3-2 over two legs to become champions. In the most recent edition of the AFF Championship in 2018, they were unable to progress to the knockout stage as they missed out on the knockout stage by just two points, with the 1-0 loss to the Philippines being the crucial fixture in the group stage.
Currently, Singapore are considered one of the lower-ranked sides within Asian football, with the country being placed as one of the stronger teams within ‘Pot 5’ of the qualification draw for the 2023 Asian Cup. Nonetheless, with their club sides now obtaining an automatic spot within the AFC Champions League group stage, and the side having performed admirably during the Second Round of Asian Cup qualifying, there are hopes that Singapore can improve in the future and finally qualify for an Asian Cup at long last…
To talk about a side who have appeared in one Asian Cup and have won the regional AFF Championship on four occasions, we interviewed the excellent The Final Whistle. They are an English-language Twitter account and podcast which reports on all news involving Singaporean football, whether it involve Singaporean players playing abroad, the ongoings in the Singapore Premier League, the national team, or news originating from Asian football in general. To find their social media accounts and podcast, follow the links below:
Q. Who would you say is your country’s best player and coach/manager of all-time, and the reasonings behind the choices?
Best ever player: Fandi Ahmad. Ability wise, he’s up there for sure but it’s impossible to say if he was the most talented player because there are others like Dollah Kassim, V. Sundramoorthy, Majid Ariff, and Quah Kim Lye. But I think the best answer to this question would be to state the one who had the most impact – and that’s Fandi Ahmad. His journey to the Dutch League with FC Groningen allowed people in these parts to dream and realise that they could make a splash in Europe. Still today, he holds an iconic status in Singapore football.
Best ever manager: Radojko “Raddy” Avramović – The records speak for themselves. While the Lions did not play the most entertaining football while under his watch, they were the most effective side in Southeast Asia. Singapore won three ASEAN championships while being managed by the Serbian.
Q. Who could be regarded as a ‘cult hero’ in terms of the national team both in the past and present?
Aleksandar Đurić comes to mind. The Yugoslavian-born forward ruled the local league and broke all kinds of records there before he was given citizenship in Singapore to represent the national team at a ripe old age of 37. In 53 appearances for the national team, he scored 24 goals and also played a key role in helping Singapore to win the 2012 AFF Championship.
Q. Of the current team, who would you say is the best player in the Singaporean national side currently?
It has to be the captain, Hariss Harun [30-year-old midfielder who has recently moved to Lion City Sailors]. Turned down a move to Portugal and moved across the causeway to play in Malaysia [for Johor Darul Ta’zim between 2014 and 2021] where he has since won several honours. Reads the game superbly in the middle of the park and has an outstanding range of passing.
Q. How would you describe the current state/performance of the national team?
Under the current national team coach Tatsuma Yoshida, we are playing progressive football. A far cry from the reputation that the national team built as a sturdy, hard to break down side. It’s still early days and in the recent World Cup qualifiers, we did decently and finished fourth (out of five teams) despite being the lowest ranked side. But what was disappointing was that after a bright start to the qualifiers [winning twice and drawing once in their first five games], it ended on a whimper as the performances in the last three matches were not up to expectations [losing 4-0 to Palestine, 5-0 to Uzbekistan, and 3-0 to Saudi Arabia]. However, the caveat is that our three best players were ruled out due to injuries and personal reasons. The hope is that the good football being dished out will continue and results will come along.
Q. Are there any Singaporean players who you think we should be focusing on for the future – who would you say is the most exciting up & coming talent from the country?
Ikhsan Fandi [22-year-old striker] – the son of Fandi Ahmad. He is currently playing in the Norwegian second division [for FK Jerv]. Also has a decent scoring rate for the national team despite how young he is [scoring 8 goals in 18 caps at the time of writing].
Q. Looking at the Singapore’s international history, what would you say has been the best game, result or performance for the national team in your opinion?
In recent times, it has been a 2-1 win against Palestine during the 2022 World Cup qualifiers. In 2015, we held Japan to a 0-0 draw at the Saitama Stadium. But generally, people here look at the early 2000s as the most successful period of the national team in the modern era, and so I must say that 15 January 2007 comes to mind as Singapore beat Laos 11-0. The Lions won that edition of the AFF tournament as well.
- Highlights of Singapore vs. Laos in 2007: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IyhtYLT9Wyk
Q. Likewise, is there a performance or result which is regarded as the team’s lowest point?
2002 AFF Suzuki Cup – a 4-0 HOME defeat to arch rivals Malaysia. An unforgettable night for most.
- Highlights of Singapore vs. Malaysia from 2002: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w3pIcJPFheE
Q. What are the best and worst things about being a fan of the Singaporean national team?
The best thing is to support your countrymen regardless of the result. Results have not been great for some time now (Singapore has failed to qualify from the group stage of the AFF Championship in the last few editions), but I think for those that follow the national team, they support the players passionately. The worst thing is that the majority of the fanbase is disgruntled with plenty of things in Singapore football. Lots of rules and decisions have hampered the interest of fans in local football. Those factors have also resulted in the national team not being at its best.
Q. Have the fans adopted some kind of unofficial anthem to sing along to before/during/after matches?
Not really. Perhaps most songs are European songs that have been adapted with local lyrics. But there are some groups that sing this song:
Q. Do you have a favourite or iconic shirt from the whole time of the national team?
The home kit that the national team wore in 2007.
Q. Finally, what are your hopes for the future of the Singaporean national team?
The hope is that the national team will have a younger core come through the ranks and we can excel on the Asian stage. We should first get back to being champions of Southeast Asia. Then we can slowly climb the rankings. The immediate dream is to qualify for a first Asian Cup appearance since hosting it in 1984.
A massive thank you very much to The Final Whistle for answering our questions on The Lions. Remember you can find their excellent social media accounts and podcast in the links at the top of the blogpage.
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