By his own admission, it was not a good 2014 ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup outing for Safuwan Baharudin.
Two years ago, he and fellow Lion Baihakki Khaizan were feted as the region’s top central defensive pairing in Singapore’s winning campaign.
But after their exit on Saturday from the group stage of this year’s competition, the team, their coach and the Football Association of Singapore are bearing the brunt of criticism from the football fraternity and fans who had expected more from the defending champions.
While media reports have cited disharmony in the squad and dissatisfaction with head coach Bernd Stange as reasons for the poor showing, Safuwan would not be drawn to adding more fuel to the fire.
Instead, the 23-year-old told TODAY: “(The blame for) Singapore’s exit from the Suzuki Cup has to be shouldered by everyone in the team and not just coach Bernd Stange. We cannot push all the blame on him. Every member of the team has to share the responsibility, Stange included.
“But he is only the coach; he decides the line-up and the tactical formation, but at the end of the day, what the players do on the field decides the outcome of the game.
“In short, all of us are in it together. Sink or swim.”
Calling it a nightmare outing for the Lions, Safuwan said losses to Thailand and Malaysia showed that the team still had plenty to learn.
“Especially in our attacking part of the game, we did not score a single goal from open play, apart from Khairul Amri’s header against Thailand,” he pointed out. “The other goals came from set pieces: Free-kicks and corner kicks.
“We lacked creativity up front. We didn’t have someone brave and confident enough to take on opposing defenders in the 18-yard box and do the damage.”
Until the free-kick he took, which resulted in Amri equalising against Malaysia, Safuwan’s campaign this year had been teetering on disaster. His handball late in the opener against Thailand led to the visitors’ winning penalty. In the following match, his foul on Myanmar striker Kyaw Ko Ko led to yet another penalty in a poor second half for the Lions that heralded the disaster against Malaysia.
“I must admit that I had a very quiet tournament, especially in the opening two matches. But I know I had a better game against Malaysia, and I thought I could get better if we had entered the semi-finals,” said Safuwan.
“The Suzuki Cup is over for us. We have the World Cup qualifiers next year. And while we’re frustrated with the early exit from the Suzuki Cup, maybe we should not dwell on it anymore and move on.”