Before they went through their paces at the Singapore Sports School on Sunday evening, the Syria national team were in a playful mood.
They whipped out mobile phones and digital cameras and posed for pictures with wide smiles, intermittently joking with one another.
But, once coach Anas Makhlouf blew his whistle and summoned his charges to the centre of the pitch, the mood quickly changed.
Focus was the order of the day. The Syrian players flew into wholehearted challenges and two first-team players - Omar Khribin and Ouday Jaffal - even required treatment for injuries picked up during the solid, twohour session.
It became clear the Syrians will not hold back against Singapore in their Asian Cup Group A qualifier at the Jalan Besar Stadium on Tuesday night.
The team feel they have a duty to give their best in every match, given the chaos going on back home.
Syria has been mired in a civil war for two years and Makhlouf told The New Paper: "What's happening back home is difficult.
"But it is a motivation for us to do our best and work hard for our people. "Winning is a way to give our countrymen a reason to smile and be cheerful, even if for a while."
Apart from lifting the gloom back home, three points over the Lions would kickstart Syria's qualifying campaign The Red Eagles lost narrowly to Oman and then pulled off a laudable 1-1 with group favourites Jordan in their two games.
Despite the creditable showing, the results mean they have only a point. Makhlouf has told his players he wants nothing less than three points.
But the 40-year-old coach insisted his side won't have it easy against Singapore, even though Bernd Stange's Lions have shipped six goals and have yet to find the net in their two group games.
"The most important thing for us is to win," said Makhlouf, who used to play for Russian sides like Krylia Sovetov and Rubin Kazan.
"It's the key for us to go to the Asian Cup in Australia in 2015. It all starts from this match."
Makhlouf has watched videos of Singapore's defeats by Jordan (4-0) and Oman (2-0), and he added: "We know Singapore are a good team with a good coach, who is working very hard to make the team better.
"The Singapore team play good football and have a few good players, but they have made some mistakes in their games. We are aware of this and know them well, but I'm sure they know us well, too.
"It won't be easy for us and we cannot afford to enter the match thinking it is."
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