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Footballing Weekly: Asian Games routs expose gulf which Singapore women's football face

Heavy defeats by North Korea are reminders that, despite positive recent developments, there is a long way to go to bridge the gap

North Korea's Hong Son-gok (red jersey No.14) scoring their first goal against Singapore in their women's football group-stage match at the 2023 Hangzhou Asian Games. (PHOTO Sport Singapore/Jeremy Lee)
North Korea's Hong Son-gok (red jersey No.14) scoring their first goal against Singapore in their women's football group-stage match at the 2023 Hangzhou Asian Games. (PHOTO Sport Singapore/Jeremy Lee) (JEREMY LEE)

SINGAPORE — It has been a tough and chastening maiden Asian Games outing for the Singapore national women's football team.

They were originally drawn to face North Korea and Cambodia in the opening group stage of the competition in Hangzhou. However, when Cambodia pulled out just days before the start of the tournament, Games organisers decided to have Singapore and North Korea play each other twice, instead of re-drawing the group stage.

This meant two tough matches for the world No.130 Lionesses against the North Koreans, who were ranked 10th in the world in 2022 and were three-time Asian Games gold medallists.

And it turned out to be a nightmarish experience. On Sunday (24 September), they were thrashed 0-7, and in their second match on Wednesday, it was a humbling 0-10 loss.

Given the nascent women's football scene in Singapore, it is understandable that the Lionesses would run afoul of heavy losses at the Asian Games. However, the two thrashings showed just how far the Singapore team have to go before they can dream of any kind of success in the Asian region.

Even with positive recent developments - such as beating Laos and Pakistan in international matches this year, young players earning "Unleash the Roar!" overseas scholarships, and national player Danelle Tan beginning her professional career at Borussia Dortmund - it is still a long way before the Lionesses can catch up to the likes of 2011 World Cup winner Japan or even regional powerhouses Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines.

Football Association of Singapore (FAS) president Bernard Tan said at the 41st FAS Congress last Saturday that his association will focus on three key areas - more money from the private sector, making sure stakeholders have aligned interests and having enough playing fields - in order to uplift the sport in the coming years.

There is hope that women's football will take off in Singapore if the national team find success at the upcoming SEA Games editions. Whether there is enough will and patience to see the team make incremental improvements amid tough losses such as the Asian Games thrashings, it remains to be seen.

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