SINGAPORE – They may have endured a terrible run of results of late, scoring just once in their last seven games against teams in the same age-group. But Singapore’s under-23 football team finally shrugged off their poor form on Wednesday (July 12) evening, putting in an improved performance to beat India 1-0 in a friendly at the Choa Chu Kang stadium.
A 51st minute penalty from striker Ikhsan Fandi was enough to secure the victory for a transformed Young Lions side, which had lost to the same opponents by the same scoreline just three days ago.
Apart from the positive result on the pitch, Singapore coach Richard Tardy was pleased with the way his charges performed against a physically-imposing Indian side.
“I’m relieved that we’ve managed to get the win,” he said at the post-match conference. “It’s a big difference between the way we played the first and second game. We made seven changes to the first-team today, some injured players like Hami were back, and you could see that we played with more speed and precision.
“We know that this win is very important for our confidence. All the players don’t like to lose. India is not a bad team, and today you could see that we were able to compete with them. We had several chances to score, and we tried to play good football. My players are young and need more experience and power, but they have the quality to compete, and I’m proud that they fought from the start to the final whistle. Whenever we lost the ball, you could see the players worked hard to get the ball back.”
India’s under-23 head coach Stephen Constantine, who is also the country’s national coach, declined to speak to the media after the game.
While the Young Lions only managed to get their first shot on target against India in the 83rd minute on Sunday, they needed only seven minutes yesterday to test Indian goalkeeper Vishal Kaith, with midfielder Pashia Anugurah forcing the custodian to a good save with his legs.
Reacting first to the rebound, Pashia’s second attempt on goal was then cleared off the line by a retreating Indian defender.
Nine minutes later, Pashia turned provider as he set Ikhsan through on goal, but the teenage striker’s shot was well parried away by Vishal.
India however, looked threatening on the counter, with striker Manvir Singh in particular proving himself a menace to Singapore’s defence.
He also had his team’s best chance of the half in the 25th minute, rising highest to meet a teasing cross from the right, but his header went straight into the arms of Singapore goalkeeper Zharfan Rohaizad.
Both teams went into the half-time break on even footing, but it took just six minutes after the break for the deadlock to be broken.
Syahrul Sazali, who had come on as a substitute at half-time, earned Singapore a penalty after being fouled in the box, and Ikhsan stepped up to coolly dispatch the spot-kick to give the home team the lead.
The goal seemed to lift Singapore’s spirits, and they came close to doubling their lead just seven minutes later through captain Ilyas Lee, but his curled shot from outside the box sailed just wide.
Manvir very nearly scored the equaliser for India in the 76th minute, as the 22-year-old dribbled past his defender to force Singapore’s substitute goalkeeper Hairul Syirhan into a good low save.
Three minutes later, a moment of magic from 18-year-old midfielder Hami Syahin almost gave Singapore a two-goal lead, as his attempt to lob Vishal from near the half-way line went just wide.
The much-needed victory will allow Singapore to head to next week’s Asian Football Confederation (AFC) U-23 Championship qualifiers in Yangon, Myanmar on a high. The Young Lions have been drawn in Group F along with Australia, Brunei and hosts Myanmar.
Mr Tardy added: “We have one week to prepare for the AFC Championship qualifiers now. Our first game is against Myanmar, and we know that they’re a very good team.
“Our goal in the qualifiers is to finish in the top two of our group to try and qualify for the next stage – this means we’ll have to win at least two of our games. It won’t be easy for sure, but we will work hard and try to play with a good mentality.
To finish our preparations for the tournament with a win is good for the spirit, and all of us are happy now, I’ll be hard on the players again tomorrow because this game against India is only a friendly.”
With the bulk of the under-23 team also set to feature in the SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur next month, Mr Tardy has set a semi-final target for the team, who will face hosts Malaysia, Myanmar, Laos and Brunei in Group A. "For the SEA Games, our first target will be in the last-four, but we know it'll be in difficult," he said.
"Unlike what many people are saying, our group is not easy. Yes, Thailand is better than Malaysia, but the Malaysians have the homeground advantage. And I think Myanmar is stronger than Vietnam, while Laos is also stronger than Cambodia in my opinion. So we know that qualification to the semi-finals is the goal, but it will be difficult."