Football: Changes fail to give Lions more bite

V. Sundramoorthy watching the Lions battle to a 0-0 draw against Malaysia at the National Stadium on Friday. The Singapore caretaker coach yesterday witnessed his side's failure to score once again - against Hong Kong.
V. Sundramoorthy watching the Lions battle to a 0-0 draw against Malaysia at the National Stadium on Friday. The Singapore caretaker coach yesterday witnessed his side's failure to score once again - against Hong Kong. PHOTO: THE NEW PAPER

Debutant Irfan Fandi among six changes made but S'pore's goal drought extends to 233 minutes

National caretaker coach V. Sundramoorthy rang the changes in search of a winning formula for Singapore, but he was left with more questions than answers as the Lions succumbed 2-0 away to Hong Kong in their international friendly last night.

The Lions had endured a frustrating night in a goal-less draw with Malaysia last Friday, but were at least encouraged by the numerous chances created. They also hit the crossbar three times at the National Stadium.

The mood at the Mong Kok Stadium last night was decidedly more sombre, however, as Sundram and head coach of youth Fandi Ahmad, both great scorers during their playing days, watched grimly as Singapore's goal drought stretched to 233 minutes.

Safuwan Baharudin's 37th-minute goal in the 3-1 loss away to Bahrain on Sept 2 was the last time the Lions scored.

Against Hong Kong, ranked 13 spots higher in the world rankings at No. 142, Singapore lacked any attacking edge save for a few long throw-ins and hopeful attempts from distance.

This was Singapore's fifth international game without a victory, dating back to a 1-0 win over Myanmar in a June friendly.

TALE OF TWO TEAMS

It was a very good game, very exciting... the difference is that Hong Kong took their chances while we didn't manage to convert ours.

V. SUNDRAMOORTHY, Singapore caretaker coach, on the game.

The sight of Irfan Fandi, eldest son of Fandi, in the starting line-up for his international debut, may have caused some pre-match buzz.

However, the 19-year-old, deployed just behind main striker Khairul Amri, looked raw throughout his hour-long cameo and will need time to adjust to this level.

His sole chance came in the 25th minute but he misjudged the flight of Madhu Mohana's cross and mistimed his header.

Irfan said: "It was not an easy match but my senior team-mates were fantastic.

"They guided and motivated me, and that helped me settle down early in the game."

The teenager's inclusion was one of six changes made by Sundram as he continued experimenting with his team ahead of the Nov 19-Dec 17 Asean Football Federation Suzuki Cup.

Seven of his 10 starting outfield players were 1.8m or taller, a clear sign of Sundram's strategy to cope with the physical style of Hong Kong. The hosts had 12 foreign-born players in their squad.

One of them, Nigeria-born forward Alex Akande, broke the deadlock in the first half. The pacy 27-year-old ran onto a lobbed pass from team-mate Lam Ka Wai and finished calmly past Singapore's Izwan Mahbud in the 42nd minute.

Akande then turned provider in the 70th minute as he collected a header from substitute Jaimes McKee and laid the ball into Huang Yang's path. The midfielder's fierce shot gave Izwan no chance.

That Singapore's best chance came in second-half stoppage time - substitute Yasir Hanapi's two attempts from inside the box both missed the target - was indicative of the Lions' struggles.

Sundram said: "It was a very good game, very exciting and there were chances for both teams - the difference is that Hong Kong took their chances while we didn't manage to convert ours."

Singapore open their Suzuki Cup campaign against the Philippines on Nov 19. They are alongside fellow four-time champions Thailand and Indonesia in Group A.

Besides the two recent friendlies, Sundram has arranged a 10-day training camp in Qatar next month and a final sparring match on Nov 12 in Singapore.

Based on last night's evidence, there is still plenty of work to be done for the 51-year-old tactician.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 12, 2016, with the headline 'Changes fail to give Lions more bite'. Print Edition | Subscribe