The road to qualification for the 2018 World Cup final in Russia is set to be a challenging one for Singapore’s national football team.
The draw for the second round of the FIFA World Cup Asian Zone qualifiers was conducted in Kuala Lumpur yesterday, with Singapore — ranked 162nd in the world — placed in Group E with Cambodia (179), Afghanistan (135), Syria (126), and four-time Asian champions Japan (50).
With the draw also serving as qualifiers for the 2019 Asian Cup Finals in the United Arab Emirates, Lions coach Bernd Stange admitted yesterday that Singapore can expect a tough ride in their bid for both tournaments.
The team will open their campaign in Cambodia on June 11 before hosting Japan five days later.
“I think the group we are in is a challenging one and we are not in any position to underestimate any of the teams,” Stange told TODAY.
“My overall aim is to qualify and the importance will be on the first two matches, to gain momentum. We will go game by game as it is going to be a marathon.
“Japan will be a difficult match. (But) I am absolutely optimistic of beating Syria since we have done it before, in 2013. I will tell every one of my players to take up the challenge we have ahead.”
Singapore have never qualified for the Asian Cup Finals — except for 1984 when the Republic hosted the event — and the team’s previous best outing in the World Cup Asian Zone qualifiers was in 2011/2012, when the team made it to the third stage.
The Lions have endured a string of poor performances in recent months, including a 2-2 draw with lower-ranked Guam in a friendly match last month, and were eliminated at last year’s AFF Suzuki Cup in the group stage.
Forty Asian countries, including newly-crowned Asian champions Australia, will contest the qualifiers. Eight group winners and the four best runners-up will advance to the next stage of World Cup qualifying and earn a spot in the Asian Cup.
The remaining teams will go into another phase of Asian Cup qualifiers.