By Kurt Ganapathy
All photos: Wikipedia, unless otherwise credited
While Singapore’s road to Russia 2018 ended close to two years ago, the Lions’ continued poor form has sent them plummeting to their lowest ever position in the FIFA world rankings – 173rd out of 211 teams.
It’s easy to compare Singapore’s failures to the achievements of a country like Iceland – a country with less residents than Jurong – but we’re so far off the pace that such an assessment wouldn’t be fair.
To really put the decline of Singapore’s FIFA World Ranking into perspective, we have to take a look at some of the traditional minnows that now stand ahead of us – some of whom aren’t even sovereign states. Here are eight teams currently putting Singapore to shame.
1. Puerto Rico
FIFA World Ranking: 167
Puerto Rico, an unincorporated territory of the United States, is still struggling to deal with the aftermath of Hurricanes Irma and Maria on top of an ongoing debt crisis and existing infrastructure woes. Though they’ve only played one international match in 2017 (a goalless draw against Indonesia), their fall down the rankings has not been drastic, losing four places this month (compared to Singapore’s 11).
FIFA World Ranking: 162
It was just five short years ago when Singapore reigned supreme as champions of Southeast Asia. As it stands, we’re now ninth out of 11 teams in the region, ahead of only Brunei (183rd) and Timor-Leste (192nd).
Of all our ASEAN rivals who have leapfrogged us, seeing Laos eleven places ahead stings the most. This is a team that failed to qualify for the 2016 AFF Championship; a team that was on the receiving end of Singapore’s biggest ever win – an 11-0 blowout back in 2007.
While Laos are winless in 2017, they played well at the 2016 AFC Solidarity Cup, picking up victories over Mongolia and Sri Lanka before being eliminated on penalties by eventual winners Nepal. They finished off their campaign by beating Brunei in the third place playoff.
3. South Sudan
FIFA World Ranking: 153
Several war torn countries have performed admirably on the football pitch recently, not least Syria, who sit in 77th place after a spirited World Cup qualifying campaign. But South Sudan has also had to deal with the realities of being the world’s youngest sovereign state – they gained independence in 2011.
Playing in 2018 African Nations Championship and 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying this year, the Bright Stars overcame Somalia in the former and Djibouti in the latter. They’ve since been eliminated from the Nations Championship, but have lots of football left to play in their Cup of Nations adventure.
4. New Caledonia
FIFA World Ranking: 150
When it was announced that Singapore would play an under-18 friendly against the French special collectivity of New Caledonia this month, more than a few Singaporean football fans expressed smug bemusement. “Who is New Caledonia? Do they even have a football field there? Where is New Caledonia?” they asked. The answers: an archipelago in the Pacific with a population of about 280,000, yes and 23 places ahead of us in the FIFA World Rankings.
If anything, the New Caledonians should have been asking those questions about us – they stopped here on their way to play in the FIFA U-17 World Cup in India. New Caledonia has even produced a World Cup and Champions League winner. Christian Karembeu collected the honors representing France and Real Madrid.
The senior team, meanwhile, performed creditably in 2018 World Cup qualifying, finishing second in their group behind Oceania powerhouse New Zealand.
5. Hong Kong
FIFA World Ranking: 142
The political situation in Hong Kong has been difficult to watch since the events of the Umbrella Revolution, but the identity crisis of the Special Administrative Region has not affected the quality of its football. Hong Kong and Singapore have been regular sparring partners of late – meeting seven times in the last five years – but the Dragons have only tasted defeat once in that stretch.
While Singapore’s hopes of qualifying for the 2019 AFC Asian Cup are fizzling out after defeats to Taiwan and Turkmenistan, Hong Kong is sitting pretty in their group following a win against Malaysia. If they can maintain their form, they could well qualify for their first Asian Cup since 1968.
6. The Philippines
FIFA World Ranking: 116
In a basketball-mad country, the Philippines were once no-hopers when it came to football – they were perennial whipping boys who were merely there to make up the numbers. But from a low of 195th in the world in 2006, the Azkals have become Southeast Asia’s best team.
A big part of this rise can be attributed to the team leveraging on the global Filipino diaspora and recruiting foreign-born players with ancestral links to the archipelago. Simply sourcing so-called “foreign talent” isn’t necessarily a recipe for success, however, something we know all too well in Singapore. They might come from very different backgrounds, but the Azkals are a team that is greater than the sum of its parts.
After reaching the semifinals in three of the last four AFF Championships, the Philippines are getting closer to claiming some well-deserved silverware. In the meantime, the prize they’re chasing is a first Asian Cup appearance – wins against Nepal and Tajikistan and two draws against Yemen in qualifying have put them at the top of their group.
7. St Kitts and Nevis
FIFA World Ranking: 108
Singapore currently ranks behind many countries with populations considerably smaller than our own, but the exploits of the Kittitians and Nevisians are truly remarkable. With just over 54,800 people calling St Kitts and Nevis home, their entire population could fit comfortably inside Singapore’s 55,000-seat National Stadium. And yet, there they are, right outside the world’s top 100.
The Sugar Boyz actually hit a high of 73rd place twice within the last 12 months, but they’ve had a mixed bag in 2017 – a win against Barbados, draws against India and Mauritius, and losses to Armenia and Georgia.
FIFA World Ranking: 84
It’s not often that you hear positive news about Palestine, but the progress made by their football team is a welcome success story. Singapore and Palestine last met a decade ago in a two-legged World Cup qualifier with the Lions running out winners 7-0 on aggregate. The tie is perhaps best remembered for Singapore’s walkover win at home – a 3-0 victory was awarded after the Palestinians allegedly missed the match due to Israeli travel restrictions.
Since dropping to 183rd position in the rankings in 2008, Palestine has enjoyed a steady climb through the footballing world and they are now in their best position ever. They qualified for their first Asian Cup in 2015 and secured their place at the 2019 tournament on Oct 10 with an emphatic 10-0 win over Bhutan.
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