SINGAPORE - A new year, a new low.
In the latest Fifa rankings released yesterday, Singapore were placed 158th, which is the lowest level the Republic has ever hit. The previous lowest was 152nd in November last year.
How bad is that, you ask?
Well, the Lions are now the 29th-ranked team in Asia and they are not even in the top five teams in South-east Asia.
Vietnam (97th), Thailand (141st), the Philippines (148th), Indonesia (151st) and Malaysia (156th) are all ranked above Singapore.
But national football coach Raddy Avramovic was unperturbed by the dismal news when contacted last night.
The 62-year-old told The New Paper: "The rankings don't mean anything to me because I don't think it is a realistic gauge of a team's capabilities.
"Some teams use friendlies to boost their rankings, but for many years, we used these games to give a chance to the young players.
"And it is a fact that we have not played that many friendlies to have a chance to get ranking points."
Over the last eight months, Singapore have played just three friendlies, beating the Philippines as well as earning creditable away draws against Thailand and Azerbaijan.
But the Lions also lost all six of their third-round World Cup qualifiers group matches against Jordan, Iraq and China.
National midfielder Hariss Harun admitted it was not a pretty sight to find themselves classified alongside exotic names such as New Caledonia (154th) Curacao (159th) and Lesotho (163th).
Said the 21-year-old, whose LionsXII team, in contrast, are top of the Malaysian Super League: "It is a disappointment and I guess defeats in all six World Cup qualifiers played a part in our slump.
"Trust me, the players are not happy with our results. As for performances, I thought we did well in the first few games but I guess the rankings don't take that into account.
"We also don't have the luxury of playing as many friendlies as some countries do, so that must have been a factor too.
"Personally, I feel gaining exposure from these games against high-level opponents is more important than ranking points, but no one likes to be down the rankings."
Singapore skipper Shahril Ishak added: "I don't think it is an accurate reflection of our team's abilities. We did well to draw against Azerbaijan and we are definitely more than a match for any South-east Asian team if we were to play now.
"Judge us at the end of the year, after the Suzuki Cup. I'm sure we will bounce right up."
The biennial tournament, co-hosted by Thailand and Malaysia, takes place from Nov 24 to Dec 22.
Said Football Association of Singapore (FAS) president Zainudin Nordin: "We are still in the process of rebuilding the nationalteam.
"The rankings reflect the results from the World Cup qualifiers. We have to accept that and try to improve the national team.
"The only way to move up is through winning and I'm confident they will, once the team gel and do better."
As for the issue of a lack of friendlies, Zainudin added: "We must understand that we have launched S-League 2.0 and we are trying to work towards a more professionally managed schedule.
"Therefore, we are only able to play international friendlies on Fifa-allocated dates.
"We will try to organise more games during these dates, but we also have to accept the fact that sometimes we are rejected when we approach the better teams."
To this end, Avramovic revealed to TNP that, aside from the two friendlies against Malaysia pencilled in for June 8 (home) and 12 (away), Singapore will also play Hong Kong on June 1 (away) and Aug 15 (home).
This article was first published in The New Paper.