FAS ● Sep 29, 2023
Reflecting on the Asian Games campaign: A journey of learning and progress
Lionesses in the first match against North Korea, September 2023. Credit: Sport Singapore / Jeremy Lee
SINGAPORE, 29 SEPTEMBER 2023 – Going into the second match of their Asian Games Group C fixtures on Wednesday (28 Sept), Singapore Women’s National Team Head Coach Karim Bencherifa knew that the odds were stacked against his team. With 10 injured players and coming off the back of a 7-0 defeat in the opening match, Karim nevertheless clung to his unwavering belief in his team, fuelled by the hope of a remarkable turnaround in their performance.
“Our focus [after the first match] was on channelling our energy towards keeping the girls motivated and maintaining their eagerness for every game. Following the first match, we witnessed almost half of the team sustaining injuries. I would like to thank the medical team for doing a great job in bringing all of them back to be available for selection. ”
Singapore captain Rosnani Azman, who had suffered a hand injury in the previous match, was undeterred: “The injury that I got from the first match didn’t bother me at all. I just want to do better for the second game and be game-ready. I knew it would not be easy, but we needed to maintain a positive mindset if we were going up against one of the top [teams] in Asia.
As the match approached kick-off, the team understood that they couldn’t fix everything in just two days. Their focus was on approaching the game as a united team and executing their game plan to the best of their abilities. “For us, the goal was clear: To give our all, and not give up until the final whistle is blown”, the 26-year-old defender shared.
Still, their determination was not enough to lift the team up, as they conceded 7 goals in the first half.
DPR Korea’s Choe Kumok in action with Singapore’s Ho Hui Xin in the first match, September 2023. Credit: Sport Singapore / Jeremy Lee
DPR Korea swiftly established their dominance, showcasing their prowess within just three minutes. Defender Ri Myonggum delivered an impeccable corner kick to forward Kim Kyongyong, who executed a simple yet effective header, opening the scoring.
In the 14th minute, forward An Myongsong took the spotlight with a magnificent header goal, displaying accuracy with an assist from Myonggum.
Kyongyong was in sparkling form, not only scoring but also providing crucial assists. In the 16th minute, she sent in a cross from the left, rewarding Myonggum for her earlier contributions with another goal – Myonggum leaping above Singapore defender Irsalina Irwan, as she guided the header just inside the goalpost.
Mastura Jeilani in action, September 2023. Credit: Sport Singapore/Jeremy Lee
A handball by Irsalina in the 19th minute resulted in a penalty kick awarded to Kyongyong, who confidently secured her brace.
Kyongyong was not done yet – with captain Wi Jongsim’s precise cross, she headed in another goal, securing an extraordinary hat-trick in the 36th minute. In the 41st minute, Rosnani attempted to clear a long ball played by midfielder Ju Hyosim. Myongsong capitalised on the situation, executing a looping header. Singapore custodian Beatrice Tan managed to push the ball out, but it ricocheted to midfielder Myong Yujong, who calmly slotted it home, extending the lead to 6-0.
The first half concluded with the North Koreans adding yet another goal to their tally one minute into stoppage time – Hyosim delivered a precise long ball, finding star player Kyongyong, who tucked it into the net.
In the locker room, exhaustion was plastered all over their faces, but they refused to let it become an excuse: “We were very exhausted, but at this point, it’s all about the mental capability and the ability to focus for another 45 minutes,” Rosnani emphasized.
Head Coach Karim Bencherifa in the first match, September 2023. Credit: Sport Singapore/Jeremy Lee
Karim’s words echoed this sentiment: “At halftime, with the score at 7-0, our primary objective was to instil encouragement in our players, urging them to keep fighting and not to give up.”
Despite the Lionesses’ valiant efforts, the second half continued to showcase the prowess of the opponents – in the 58th minute, Hyosim passed the ball to an unguarded Pong Songae on the left. The defender delivered a pinpoint cross, and Myongsong finished it off as Beatrice struggled to regain her position to deflect the goal. In the 64th minute, Beatrice passed on the goalkeeping duties to Noor Kusumawati, thereby earning her 51st cap.
Forward Hong Songok left her mark in the 70th minute with a corner kick. She outjumped everyone in the defence, including the likes of Mastura Jeilani, Venetia Lim, and Syzawani Ruzi in the backline, heading the ball directly into the roof of the net.
DPR Korea’s Pong Songae in action with Singapore’s Dhaniyah Qasimah, September 2023. Credit: Sport Singapore/Jeremy Lee
Even in stoppage time, DPR Korea showed no signs of relenting. Another corner was awarded, and Kyongyong seized the opportunity. She exploited the space left by Kusumawati on the right and netted her fifth goal of the match, bringing the team’s total to 10 goals.
After the final whistle, as they headed back to the locker room, spirits were low. “I was drained, both physically and mentally, I can only imagine that my players felt much worse,” Karim recounted.
Emotions ran high among the team at that moment. Rosnani candidly shared, “Of course, I felt devastated, but we do know that we gave our best throughout.”
She then turned her attention to the coach’s resilience, saying, “Coach Karim was with us throughout. He saw everything and how we fought hard together. He told us that this is not the end, and of course, we have a lot to improve on, but we can only do so much. The only thing we can do is to pick ourselves up, learn from this experience and aim to do better for the next upcoming game.”
Singapore’s Khairunnisa Anwar and DPR Korea’s Ri Sujong in action. Credit: Sport Singapore/Jeremy Lee
Even though this was something they had expected, facing the stark reality of their loss was truly disappointing.
Karim acknowledged the challenging reality, saying: “If you watched the game, you would know that the girls really gave their all. But as we anticipated, the gap between the two teams was immense, and we can’t bridge that overnight. The area where we struggled most was in aerial duels and heading battles. The North Korean team’s physicality and jumping prowess presented a challenge that we found difficult to overcome. In both games, we conceded 11 goals through headers, including five from corner situations and one penalty.”
“Our players were apprehensive about going for headers. In the [Women’s Premier League], players tend to attempt big crosses, which further adds to the challenge. Mentally, it’s a difficult aspect to master; there’s pressure involved in headers, man marking, set pieces, and corners,” the Moroccan native continued.
Rosnani further elaborated on the challenges they faced: “The [main] challenge for us was that they are able to hang in the air. Most of them are taller and can jump higher than all of us. The crosses that came from the flank were very precise and swift to them. The only thing we could do was to jump and distract them so that they couldn’t get the free header to score a goal.”
She acknowledged that the team had much room to improve in this area, saying, “We have to start working on our plyometric exercises, strengthening our explosive muscles so that we can jump a little bit higher, and having the courage to consistently challenge in duels and for air balls.”
Singapore’s Nurerwadah Erwan in action in the first match. Credit: Sport Singapore/Jeremy Lee
Nevertheless, there were some positives to be taken away from the match. Karim praised key aspects of the Lionesses’ improvement in performance in the second match: “Our team displayed great organisation, maintained pressure on the ball, covered spaces effectively, and succeeded in limiting crosses—a marked improvement from our first encounter with the same opponents. I must commend our defenders, Nurerwadah and Rosnani, who displayed courage up against the physically taller and bigger North Koreans as they attempted to block the headers away.”
Reflecting on their collective strength, Rosnani said, “We are definitely a lot stronger when we work together as one unit. We knew North Korea would not be an easy opponent, and they tested us not just physically but our mental resilience as well throughout the two entire games. While we can’t control every aspect of the game, I feel that we have grown from this experience as a team because we have seen how each of us responds in the face of adversity and how we tried to rally each other when the chips were down” she added, underscoring the Lionesses’ strong team spirit.
When asked about reports mentioning the absence of key players, Karim was unwilling to use that as a reason for the team’s exit from the Games: “While someone like Danelle [Tan] could have brought the physicality we lacked, realistically, [the absence of key players] wouldn’t have made a significant difference. This does not give the deserved respect to the players who are here and who fought hard.”
For Karim, he hopes the team will close the chapter on this experience, learn from it, and move forward with determination: “It was undeniably a tough lesson for us, but a valuable one for our young team. These experiences are crucial steps in our ongoing journey of player and team development, essential for us to become more competitive.
Our ultimate goal is to cultivate a strong Singaporean team that not only competes regionally but also sets its sights on the continental level. The girls deserve unwavering support from our fans, as facing a team like DPR Korea is akin to confronting a powerhouse like Spain on the men’s stage.” he concluded.
Rosnani Azman in action in the first match. Credit: Sport Singapore/Jeremy Lee
Rosnani expressed her heartfelt gratitude, sharing “I appreciate everyone’s effort in dealing with everything throughout the campaign and being very professional about it.
“It was really tough, and we gave our level best. It’s not easy to tackle one of the best teams in Asia, yet we still fought till the final whistle. To Singaporeans, thank you for supporting us throughout this Asian Games journey.”
Singapore: Beatrice Tan (Noor Kusumawati 64’), Sarah Zuris’qha, Nurerwadah Erwan (Sitianiwati Rosielin 82’), Farhanah Ruhaizat (Farah Nurzahirah 86’), Irsalina Irwan (Mastura Jeilani HT), Ho Hui Xin (Nicole Lim HT), Khairunnisa Anwar, Dhaniyah Qasimah, Rosnani Azman, Syazwani Ruzi, Venetia Lim
Unused subs: Erlinawaty Jaffar, Stephanie Dominguez, Raudhah Kamis, Afiqah Omar, Adrianna Hazeri, Nasriah Ibrahim
CORPORATE COMMUNICATIONS DEPARTMENT
FOOTBALL ASSOCIATION OF SINGAPORE