Don’t self-flagellate, Singapore, just cheer the Lions' comeback against China and enjoy your moment in the sun

Little Red Dot still struggles with lavish praise amid recent successes such as Taylor Swift, so try to savour a rare sports triumph

Singapore's Jacob Mahler (left) celebrates after scoring his team's second goal in the 2026 FIFA World Cup Asian qualifier against China at National Stadium in Singapore.
Singapore's Jacob Mahler (left) celebrates after scoring his team's second goal in the 2026 FIFA World Cup Asian qualifier against China at National Stadium in Singapore. (PHOTO: Lim Weixiang/Getty Images)

STOP now, Singapore. Just stop. The giddiness is getting out of hand. First Taylor Swift, then Deep Purple and now the Lions humiliating China at the National Stadium. This is getting ridiculous. No wonder the little Red Dot is the cheeriest Asian nation, according to the latest World Happiness Index. We’re all walking around like Ronald McDonald.

OK, we’re not really. The average MRT journey still feels like a group audition for the "Walking Dead" and thank heavens for that. A kiasu nation cannot take this much joy indefinitely. It’s bewildering. Just look at the nationwide confusion following the Lions’ magnificent comeback against China, drawing 2-2 in the World Cup qualifier, with traumatised souls struggling to come up with the appropriate responses.

On LinkedIn, Singaporeans came up with six reasons why the Lions performed so admirably against superior opponents, six reasons that had very little to do with football but quite a lot to do with the corporate training offered in bios.

On Instagram, Singaporeans posted photos of the Mexican waves. On Twitter/X, no one posted anything because no one uses Twitter/X anymore.

And on Facebook, the "yeah but" mob tortured themselves with some impressive contortions.

Singapore drew against a nation 70 places about them in the world rankings? Yeah, but the Lions are light years away from their rivals and the curry puffs at Kallang haven’t been the same since the Malaysia Cup.

The Singaporean Prime Minister came out to compliment the Lions’ efforts? Yeah, but where was Lee Hsien Loong when the Lions were chasing a winner in stoppage time, eh? Anyone can lavish praise after the fact, but why wasn’t the PM in midfield, picking up the second balls? Typical Gahmen.

And anyway, China were useless. A rudimentary, limited side, packed with, ahem, foreigners and led by a new coach still finding his feet as his players fell over theirs. Honestly, a country with 3.5 million citizens humbling a country with 1.4 billion citizens isn’t like it used to be.

And as for all the bandwagon jumpers, where were they when Singapore were struggling to beat Guam? Typical Singaporeans. Only sing when they’re winning (or drawing). All the gushing social media posts, all the overnight interest in the Lions, it’s so short-sighted and brand obsessed. A proper football nation supports their local team in good times and bad … and then supports either Liverpool or Manchester United at all other times.

Why the need for self-flagellation amid rare success?

Why do we do this to ourselves? Why not just bask in the unexpected success and indulge in a little self-congratulation without the need to somehow temper the euphoria with a heavy dose of self-flagellation? We succumbed to this when Taylor Swift was here, too. Even at the height of Swiftonomics, there were still humourless commentaries considering the geopolitical ramifications of annexing an American pop star for a week. And there were variations on the same theme more recently, when Deep Purple announced that Singapore would be their only Asian tour stop.

Malaysians were up in arms, apparently. How dare they be denied a chance to hear the opening riff to "Smoke on the Water", a riff currently being heard in every mat rock venue in Malaysia every night anyway? Personally, the decision to bring Deep Purple here feels like another act of self-flagellation on Singapore’s part. Get the old timers to perform "Hotel California" and "Stairway to Heaven" and they’ll essentially cover every local pub band’s set for the last 40 years. If anything, Malaysia has dodged a bullet.

But at the risk of causing a minor geopolitical incident, why is this Singapore’s problem? Or, more broadly, why do we have to be so earnest, rational and balanced in rare moments of triumph? When Singapore wins Taylor Swift and Deep Purple, don’t justify it. Just savour it. When the Lions win a moral victory against China, enjoy it. Milk it. Punch the air and do anything other than downplay, undermine or dismiss the achievement.

At the very least, we should be looking at China and their gold medal-winning levels of self-flagellation. Their captain Zhang Linpeng couldn’t bear the Kallang humiliation a moment longer and flounced out of international football for good, showcasing a real penchant for the theatrical and possibly a second career in Channel 8 dramas.

“We could not even beat the Singapore team,” he said, whilst hopefully wiping away a single tear. “I think it’s unacceptable, and I find it humiliating.”

The condescending arrogance within that statement alone should be enough to have us waving him off at Changi Airport to the tune of the Bay City Rollers’ "Bye Bye Baby".

Celebrate good times the right way

Come on, now. Drawing with Singapore is not really a legitimate source of national humiliation, is it? To use a random example, buying half of Russia's oil and petroleum exports in 2023 might be a stronger contender than, say, preventing Jacob Mahler’s equaliser at the National Stadium.

But China’s citizens appeared to agree with their fallen captain. According to reports, one commentator on the social media platform Weibo said, “This is by far the biggest disgrace since we lost 5-1 to Thailand 10 years ago, I am never watching Chinese football again.”

That doesn’t feel like a huge sacrifice does it? It’s a bit like saying "Madame Web" is by far the biggest disgrace since "Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania" and I’m never watching either again. No real loss there, mate.

But let’s leave China to their self-loathing for a bit – at least until Tuesday night when they meet the Lions again – and enjoy our moment in the sun. No strings attached. No caveats. No false equivalence or the need to present the "other" side.

Singapore’s entrenched cultural issues when it comes to sport (we need to produce more elite players) and the arts (it would be nice to produce a Taylor Swift of our own) have not gone away. We know that. But it still feels crass to raise these concerns in the middle of something uplifting and positive, like a dull heckler interrupting a comedian’s best routine.

Celebrate the good times and do the right thing, which is to laud the Lions and gently make fun of China. But if that’s not enough and you must still indulge your desire to self-flagellate, then buy a ticket for Deep Purple.

It still feels crass to raise these concerns in the middle of something uplifting and positive, like a dull heckler interrupting a comedian’s best routine.

Neil Humphreys is an award-winning football writer and a best-selling author, who has covered the English Premier League since 2000 and has written 28 books.

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