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Lions Knocking On the Door of History

 
The Lions are unfazed by the challenge ahead and are aiming for a good result in Kunming, China. (Photo: SSC)
 
Football fans across the country were rubbing their hands in excitement after the football FIFA World Cup third-round qualifying draw on 30 July.
 
Singapore avoided Asian powerhouses Japan, Korea, Australia and Iran. They were instead grouped together with China, Iraq and Jordan, the latter two which the Lions have beaten at home.
 
The Lions overcame their fiercest rival, South East Asian Champions, Malaysia 6-4 on aggregate to book their place in the third round only for the second time in their history.
 
With a real chance to reach the final round of the football World Cup Asian qualifying round for the first time, Raddy Avramovich must be eagerly looking forward to the their opening match against China on September 2 at Kunming.
 
Preparations have not been the most ideal. A gaping hole has emerged in central midfield.
 
Injury and national service means that defensive midfielders Mustafic Fahrudin and Hariss Harun are major doubts for the match against China.
 
Tampines Rovers’ Mustafic injured his knee in an S.League match while Young Lions captain Hariss is currently in basic military training (BMT) with the Singapore Police Force.
 
They were also dealt another blow as defender Ismail Yunos and striker Fazrul Nawaz were also ruled out.
 
Gombak United’s Ismail aggravated a knee injury in a Singapore Cup match while Fazrul was asked to be excused for personal reasons. 
 
“It is not an easy situation but this is where other players have to step up and take the opportunity to prove their worth,” said Avramovic.
 
Adding to Avramovic’s woes, his rivals have stepped up their preparations by appointing star coaches.
 
Brazilian legend Zico, dubbed the “White Pele’, has confirmed his appointment as the coach of the Iraq national team till 2014.
 
Zico’s high profile arrival follows China’s announcement earlier this month that it had signed former Real Madrid and Spain manager Jose Antonio Camacho as head coach.
 
Avramovic is not too concerned by the developments.
 
“I prefer to focus on my own team rather than worry about my opponents,” said the 61-year-old Serbian
 
There is some good news, however, for Avramovic.
 
Singapore drew with the Thais 0-0 in Bangkok, in a game which threw up plenty of positives for Avramovic.
 
He said: “We had a good outing but we need to be more clinical in front of goal if we want to get a good result against China.”
 
Doubts over Mustafic’s injury was also put to rest and he managed to have some game time against Thailand on 24 August.
 
“There is still some pain in my knee, which is why I only played 45 minutes,” he said.
 
“But we have more than a week to prepare for the China game and I’m sure I can be fully fit by then.”
 
The 22 man squad have also been training extensively with a hypoxicator - a rebreathing device that is supposed to help increase lung capacity and boost performance levels in high altitude areas after prolonged use.
 
The Lions will be playing in high altitude conditions in Kunming, which is 1,891m above sea level but Avramovic is confident that his squad will be well-drilled for the match.
 
He said: “The Chinese Super League ended on Sunday and our opponents came together for training on 24 August.
 
“We arrived in Kunming two days later, which is not much of a difference. The good thing is that we have already begun our preparations earlier than them.”
 
The match between China and Singapore will be shown ‘live’ on MediaCorp Channel 5 at 7:55pm on 2 September.