(Le Cong Vinh 91, Nguyen Van Quyet 99, Dinh Thanh Trung 114)
To play well and lose or to play poorly and win? That’s the tale of Singapore’s two matches at the AYA Bank Cup.
On Friday, they were outplayed by hosts Myanmar but managed to grind out a 1-0 win to make it to last night’s final, in which they matched Vietnam stride for stride in extra time only to lose 3-0 in extra time.
These first two matches under new national coach V Sundramoorthy were consistent with his philosophy at previous clubs such as Tampines Rovers and LionsXII – stabilise the back, and scavenge whatever they can up front.
As far as results are concerned, two clean sheets in regular time against an upcoming team they haven’t lost to since 1979 and a traditional powerhouse they haven’t beaten since 1998 cannot be considered a failure.
There were some positives. For one, goalkeeper Hassan Sunny is back in top form. Ever since winning the S.League title and Player of the Year award with Warriors FC in 2014, the Army United custodian has been ever-reliable with his presence and saves between the sticks, fully justifying his place in The Telegraph’s list of top 20 goalkeepers around the globe.
The defence in front of him seems pretty stable with Baihakki Khaizan and Madhu Mohana displaying aerial prowess and a good reading of the game. Full backs Nazrul Nazari and Hafiz Sujad are quick and tenacious, although at the international level, they don’t provide enough overlapping and attacking impetus.
Over the two games, it has been proven that Hariss Harun’s presence is more important in midfield, especially as Madhu seemed capable of putting behind his poor league form to perform for the Lions.
Sundramoorthy’s experiment of playing Safuwan Baharudin as a striker yielded a mixed bag of results as he won plenty of headers and fouls, but failed to win the match by scoring.
And now for the sobering truth: While Singapore are going to tough to beat, they will also find it hard to win games or come from behind without a reliable source of goals.
Winger Faris Ramli did well to get into a dangerous position to grab the only goal against Myanmar, but was anonymous last night, as was Gabriel Quak, although he did send a well-worked free-kick routine over the bar just before the break.
Azhar Sairudin picked up his first two caps, but the jury is still out as he couldn’t replicate his form at club level and it is premature to determine whether he is not international quality or just hasn’t formed an understanding with his national team-mates.
Up front, Fazrul Nawaz had a shocker against Myanmar when he missed two open goals and was subsequently dropped against Vietnam. Shahril Ishak and Khairul Amri were introduced as substitutes but failed to create any chance.
In contrast, Vietnam took just 25 second of extra time for Le Cong Vinh to seize on Madhu and Nazrul’s hesitancy and Nguyen Van Quyet’s through ball to blast past Hassan Sunny.
Substitute winger Dinh Thanh Trung combined with Van Quyet for the latter to score a second in the 99th minute, before he added the icing on the cake with a piercing run down his left flank and well-placed finish five minutes later.
Curiously, forwards Sahil Suhaimi and Amy Recha were not brought on as Sundramoorthy preferred to use defender Afiq Yunos as his third substitution with his side 2-0 down.
While all is not lost, the Lions have less than six months to sharpen their fangs if they are to avenge their embarrassing group stage exit from the last Suzuki Cup which they failed to defend as hosts.
SINGAPORE: Hassan Sunny, Nazrul Nazari, Baihakki Khaizan (Afiq Yunos 102), Madhu Mohana, Hafiz Sujad, Gabriel Quak (Shahril Ishak 73), Izzdin Shafiq, Hariss Harun, Azhar Sairudin (Khairul Amri 59), Faris Ramli, Safuwan Baharudin
Vietnam: Tran Nguyen Manh, Tran Dinh Hoang, Vu Ngoc Thinh, Que Ngoc Hai, Tran Dinh Dong, Luong Xuan Truong (Nguyen Huy Hung 85), Nguyen Tuan Anh, Nguyen Van Toan, Nguyen Van Quyet, Pham Thanh Luong (Dinh Thanh Trung 91), Le Cong Vinh (Le Hoang Thien 106)