Singapore’s 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ ambitions hang on a knife-edge after three successive defeats consigned them to bottom spot in Group A of Asian qualifying. The Singaporeans will now likely have to conjure three wins against group opponents Jordan, Iraq and China PR, in order to progress to the final stage of qualifying.
For long-serving Daniel Bennett the campaign for Brazil 2014 will likely be the end of the road in terms of participating in the world’s great football event. The English-born, Singapore-raised Bennett may not be the captain - that honour is currently with midfielder Shahril Ishak – however, he is the most-capped player within the group and has the national record very much in his grasp, For now though, the focus for Bennett is on retrieving a qualifying campaign that is in danger of derailing.
Optimism fades to disappointment
Defeat next month in Amman against Jordan, one of Asia’s form teams, would almost certainly spell the end of the road for the small south-east Asian nation. Most recently, Singapore fell to a 3-0 home loss against Jordan, which followed a 2-0 defeat against Iraq at the same Jalan Besar stadium. But it was the opening 2-1 loss on the road against China which Bennett believes was the one that got away. The home team needed two second-half goals to secure a comeback win. A victory which has proved as vital for China, as it was costly for Singapore.
“We are disappointed we haven’t got anything yet,” Bennett told FIFA.com. “We should at least have got a point somewhere, away I think [against China]. When we have injuries we struggle and when we played Iraq we struggled because of that.
“We have a good team at the moment, especially the first eleven. It is a strong team which can compete. I’m not saying it is quite as good as the other teams [in the group]. But we can compete and we can get results.”
The weight of evidence backs up Bennett’s view. In the 2007 AFC Asian Cup qualifiers, Singapore became the only team to beat Iraq en route to their continental crown. Singapore have previously drawn with against China, 0–0 and 1–1 in 2006 and 2009 respectively, while Australia could only earn a scoreless draw on their visit to the island nation three years ago.
“When the [World Cup qualifying] groups were drawn, we felt we couldn’t really have got a better group,” said Bennett. “There is a fighting chance against every team and there is no game where we should get overrun. There is no Australia, Japan or South Korea in our group, so we felt we should at least have a fighting chance, so it has been very disappointing.
In 2003 Serbian coach Radojko ‘Raddy’ Avramovic took the reins of a Singapore team that had endured a period of inconsistency. The national team’s fortunes turned around almost immediately, with the team crowned ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup champions, firstly in 2004, and then in 2007, milestones which Bennett describes as among his career highlights.
Avramovic’s tenure with the national team almost exactly mirrors that of Bennett's who debuted in 2002. “Since Raddy came in he has really made us believe in ourselves,” Bennett said. “We used to come off the field with a loss and feel sorry for ourselves, but now we go into games truly believing we can win. He is a coach that the boys really respect, and that they are willing to listen to, and are willing to learn from.
“We went into the China game away and honestly, the boys wanted to win the game," continues Bennett. "We really believed we could get something. I think we get more respect from teams coming to play us. In the past I think teams underestimated us. Now bigger teams come and they know it is not going to be easy against us.”
Now, in his tenth year of international football, Bennett, having accrued a century of caps this year is now in sight of Aide Iskandar’s tally of 121. So is the national record achievable for the 33-year-old? “As long as my body feels good, which it does at the moment, and as long as the coach has faith in me then I’m happy,” says Bennett. “I wouldn’t retire from international football. I will do everything I can to play for the national team.”