Footballing Weekly: AFF Cup exit shows up Lions' deep-rooted problems

Ageing squad, uninspiring coach, talent dearth all evident in limp exit at regional tournament

Singapore fullback Nazrul Nazari after the 1-4 loss to Malaysia during the AFF Mitsubishi Electric Cup.
Singapore fullback Nazrul Nazari after the 1-4 loss to Malaysia during the AFF Mitsubishi Electric Cup. (PHOTO: by Yong Teck Lim/Getty Images)

SINGAPORE — How do you solve a problem like Singapore football?

The aftermath of the Lions' disappointing AFF Mitsubishi Electric Cup campaign has seen them falling further behind the four regional powerhouse teams: Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia.

The limp 1-4 defeat by arch-rivals Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur in their final group-stage match would have hurt a lot, but it was hardly a surprise.

Malaysia have steadily improved since their nadir in the mid-2000s, bringing in exceptional youth talents and supplementing them with foreign imports. Although they had since lost to Thailand in the AFF Cup semi-finals, their future looks bright.

Meanwhile, Singapore are struggling to replaced their veteran warhorses like Hassan Sunny, Faris Ramli and Hariss Harun, all of whom are in their 30s. Outside of the three Fandi brothers, there is precious few talents ready to seize a regular place in the Lions' starting line-up.

Injuries to Ikhsan and Ilhan Fandi - together with key midfielder Adam Swandi - on the artificial pitch of Jalan Besar Stadium have seriously hampered the Lions' bid to advance out of their AFF Cup group, but coach Takayuki Nishigaya has also come under criticism for the team's shaky performances throughout their group matches.

The Japanese was hired last year to replace compatriot Tatsuma Yoshida, but has struggled to lift the Lions out of their mediocrity. His staid, run-of-the-mill comments during media conferences were also unlikely to have inspired the country to rally around his troops.

But underneath all these glaring issues, the root of Singapore football's troubles remains: fewer and fewer youths in the city-state are willing to make football a viable career amid a host of career options available to them.

What should football authorities do to attract more talents into professional football? Join the panel at "Footballing Weekly" as they discuss the issues facing the Singapore football scene.

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