SINGAPORE - Pragmatic and results-oriented, national caretaker football coach V. Sundramoorthy endured the worst possible outcome in Phnom Penh yesterday when Singapore lost to Cambodia for the first time in 44 years.
Once again experimenting with his squad in a 5-3-2 formation, Sundram's tactics backfired in the 2-1 defeat as a defensive lapse in concentration gifted the Angkor Warriors a rare victory over Singapore at 50,000-seat National Olympic Stadium - in front of a near sell-out Cambodian crowd.
They last beat the Republic 3-0 in the 1972 Jakarta Anniversary Tournament. It was Cambodia's second win over the Lions in 17 meetings.
Known for his organisation in defence, Sundram tried out Nazrul Nazari, who usually plays on the wing or as a right-back, as a centre-back.
Home United defender Abdil Qayyim, handed his first cap by Sundram, did not have a debut to remember after he left Tit Dina unmarked and the Cambodian midfielder ghosted past to slot home the winner deep into first-half stoppage time.
In a poor first half, the Lions deployed Sundram's familiar direct tactics but forwards Fazrul Nawaz and captain Khairul Amri had trouble connecting with the stray high balls pumped forward.
The only time the tactic worked was in the 23rd minute when Amri headed home from midfielder Izzdin Shafiq's thump. That cancelled forward Chan Vathanaka's sublime freekick that put the hosts in front in the 19th minute
Only when Sundram rang in second half changes and brought on the likes of Gabriel Quak and Sahil Suhaimi did the Lions find their feet and pose a constant threat.
Quak, especially, was effective as he regularly swapped wings to confuse markers, took men on and linked up play well along with Fazrul and midfielder Zulfahmi Arifin.
The Geylang International man was always on the attack and brought some much needed creativity to a sluggish Singapore side.
The improved performance saw Fazrul hit the woodwork twice and Zulfahmi had a free-kick smashing against the crossbar but the Lions sorely lacked the luck and a clinical finisher.
Even though Cambodia were down a man in the 75th minute when Hong Pheng saw red after two bookings, Singapore were unable to capitalise and press forward, as Cambodia threw bodies behind the ball.
The defeat in Phnom Penh wrapped up the Lions training tour. Earlier, they had lost 3-0 to Japanese club Albirex Niigata, 3-2 to the Niigata University of Health and Welfare and beat Japan Soccer College 2-0.