SINGAPORE – Eighty three minutes. That was how long it took for Singapore’s Under-23 team to fashion their first shot on target during their 0-1 loss to India U-23 in an international friendly at the Choa Chu Kang Stadium on Sunday (July 9).
While there were several other factors that contributed to Singapore’s loss – including the team’s wastefulness in possession, a costly defensive error by Irfan Fandi and India’s superior fitness – it was the team’s lack of bite and creativity up front that should worry head coach Richard Tardy the most.
After all, Singapore’s failure to score means they have just scored one goal in their last seven games against teams of the same age-group.
It is a statistic that does not make for pretty reading, especially with Tardy’s charges set to take part in both the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) U-23 Championship qualifiers in Yangon, Myanmar, later this month, as well as next month’s South-East Asian (SEA) Games in Kuala Lumpur.
Against the India under-23s on Sunday, the Young Lions often resorted to playing hopeful long balls from the back in their bid to break down a well-disciplined Indian defence, but this strategy proved ineffective as they failed to test goalkeeper Vishal Kaith throughout the 90 minutes.
Indeed, the only time Kaith was tested was when Ikhsan Fandi fired straight at him from outside the box late in the second half.
By then, India had already taken the lead through Germanpreet Singh’s 80th minute goal – the 21-year-old capitalising on a miscued clearance from the otherwise solid Irfan to curl the ball into the top-corner from just inside the box.
It was no less than what India had deserved following a second-half which saw them dominate possession and create the better chances as they worked hard to press Singapore high up the pitch.
Reflecting on his team’s defeat to their Indian counterparts, Tardy said that while he did not fault his charges for their effort, he was concerned with his team’s inability to keep possession for much of the game.
“Of course, we are not happy to lose the game, but we cannot fault the spirit of the players,” the Frenchman said.
“But we need to keep the ball better…we sometimes lose the ball too easily, and we played too much of the long ball from our defence to attack.
“When the opponent puts pressure on the players as well, sometimes we don’t have the quality to bring the ball out of tight space…we make two or three passes and we lose the ball.
“In terms of players, there were four offensive ones out there on the pitch for us, but it’s about how we progress to get ourselves into a shooting position. We need to improve on our build-up play, retain possession, and be smarter with how we use it in advanced positions.”
Tardy added that he was disappointed with the quality of his team’s set-pieces, with many free-kicks in dangerous positions often failing to clear the first defender.
“In the first-half, we had two or three good set-pieces, but in the second half, we weren’t very good at that,” he admitted.
“We need to work on that, but it’s down to technical quality as well.
“Every corner or set-piece, one of the targets is to make sure the ball goes past the first defender, but it didn’t happen much today.”
India’s under-23 head coach Stephen Constantine, who is also India’s national coach, pinpointed his side’s superior fitness levels as the main difference between the two teams.
“We looked fitter (than Singapore), because we worked quite a bit on that aspect,” said Constantine.
“I want all my players to be able to last the full 90 minutes, and I was pleased with my players’ workrate today.
“Overall, it was an interesting game. We did not coordinate as well as we should, and we gave the ball away a lot, but luckily Singapore didn’t punish us.”
The two teams will play each other again in a friendly on Wednesday (July 12) at Choa Chu Kang.