Football: Argentina too good for Singapore

Argentina players celebrating the breakthrough goal after 25 minutes against Singapore in last night's football friendly at the National Stadium. Despite the absence of stars like Lionel Messi and Gonzalo Higuain, the No. 2-ranked team in the world p
Argentina players celebrating the breakthrough goal after 25 minutes against Singapore in last night's football friendly at the National Stadium. Despite the absence of stars like Lionel Messi and Gonzalo Higuain, the No. 2-ranked team in the world put on an attacking display to end up comfortable 6-0 winners in front of 33,000 fans.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Despite conceding only two goals in the first half, Sundram's men go down 6-0 in friendly

For 45 minutes, Singapore succeeded in keeping two-time world champions Argentina at bay.

Yet, at the end of last night's friendly match at the National Stadium, the South Americans showed the gulf in class between them and the Lions, as they romped to a 6-0 victory.

Still, both coaches were satisfied with the outcome of the friendly, which was organised as part of the celebrations for the Football Association of Singapore's 125th anniversary.

Jorge Sampaoli, after his second match in charge of the Albiceleste since being appointed Argentina head coach on June 1, said: "We were looking to focus on our attack and put pressure on our opponents. We created chances in the first half but we couldn't score more.

"I'm happy with the performance because the team managed to translate the ideas (we've practised) for this tour."

Lions head coach V. Sundram Moorthy, on the other hand, was satisfied that his side were not intimidated by their illustrious opponents.

He said: "Technically, you can see how superior they were, in protecting the ball, they were comfortable on the passes. It's difficult for us. We tried to sit deep and organise the boys.

"We conceded two goals from set plays in the first half. That's creditable. We made it difficult for them in the first half.

"We were compact, I thought we could hold them and I was confident that we could fight."

Prior to the match, many had expected Argentina to maul the Lions, who are ranked 155 rungs below them in the Fifa world rankings, from the get-go, even though the South Americans were missing five-time World Player of the Year Lionel Messi as well as key striker Gonzalo Higuain.

The visitors certainly signalled their intent by fielding an ultra-attacking 2-3-5 formation that featured only two defenders, Emanuel Mammana and Federico Fazio.

Their starting XI also boasted fan favourites like Juventus' Paulo Dybala, Paris Saint-Germain's Angel di Maria and West Ham's Manuel Lanzini.

They peppered the Singapore goalmouth with a total of 36 attempts - 14 on target - although the Lions did at least keep them at bay in the first half.

Facing constant pressure, the hosts parked the bus, often with two banks of four defenders, and conceded only in the 25th (Fazio) and 31st minutes (Carlos Correa ).

However, they were almost non-existent in attack - a speculative cross-shot by full-back Shakir Hamzah being their only attempt at the Argentina goal.

The 28,044 fans, many of whom were clad in Argentina jerseys to watch their idols, were given a treat in the second half, as the visitors added goals in the 60th minute (Alejandro Gomez), 74th (Leandro Paredes), 90th (Lucas Alario) and 93rd (di Maria) minutes.

Despite the scoreline, Sampaoli said: "If we were more structured and dominated the game in the first half, the score margin would have been much larger.

"This is something we can correct."

Meanwhile, Sundram called for fans and critics to be realistic when assessing the Lions' performance.

He said: "We're playing against the world No. 2, you know, and you're talking as if we should have won."

While he was relatively pleased with his men's performance, he was less impressed when he was told that some of the Lions had exchanged their jerseys with the Argentinians as they walked off at half-time.

"I was not aware of it," he said. "It should (have been) done after the game."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 14, 2017, with the headline 'Visitors outclass Lions'. Print Edition | Subscribe