5 observations from the Lions' unsuccessful AFF Suzuki Cup campaign

Dejected Singapore players (from left)  Shahril Ishak, Hariss Harun and Faris Ramli on the pitch after their 3-1 loss to bitter rivals Malaysia in their AFF Suzuki Cup match at the National Stadium on Nov 29, 2014. -- ST PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI
Dejected Singapore players (from left)  Shahril Ishak, Hariss Harun and Faris Ramli on the pitch after their 3-1 loss to bitter rivals Malaysia in their AFF Suzuki Cup match at the National Stadium on Nov 29, 2014. -- ST PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI

Defending AFF Suzuki Cup champions Singapore were dumped out of the competition after a 1-3 loss to bitter rivals Malaysia at the National Stadium on Saturday, but where did it all go wrong? 

ST Sports' Jonathan Wong makes five observations - including some bright sparks - from their unsuccessful campaign: 

1. New coach, new players but same old style

Much was made about the new short pressing and high intensity game that German coach Bernd Stange advocated. But aside from a short spell in the first half against Thailand in the opening Group B encounter when Singapore played some intricate football, it was a revert to type for the rest of the competition with long balls launched into the opponents' half and a reliance on set-pieces.

2. But several new faces show promise

In their first taste of Suzuki Cup action, youngsters like Faris Ramli and Shakir Hamzah improved as the tournament progressed. The former teased defenders with mazy runs while the latter filled in ably for veteran Baihakki Khaizan in defence against Malaysia.

3. Hariss Harun, the Lion in the den

He was perhaps the only Singaporean to emerge from the tournament with reputation enhanced. His brace against Myanmar were expertly taken from a midfielder not known for goalscoring but it was the 24-year-old's all-round play, breaking up attacks and driving his team forward, that caught the eye.

4. The mind is willing but the flesh is weak

Trying to play at a higher tempo might make for a more attractive national team but the physical strain was also evident in decisive moments.

The Lions shipped seven goals in three group matches, with six conceded in the second half as their concentration dropped with fatigue.

They gave away a last-minute penalty against the Thais and were similarly punished in the closing stages against Malaysia.

5. The missing spine

Stange admitted that his team "lacked a little bit of backbone" when compared to previous incarnations but he had only himself to blame. He dropped midfield hardmen Isa Halim and Mustafic Fahrudin and had precious little cover in central defence.

Even if he had wanted to blood youngsters, the presence of some seasoned pros might have helped calm fraying nerves.