SINGAPORE - Singapore were beaten 2-1 by Syria in their World Cup Group E qualifier on Tuesday at the National Stadium.
Syrian forward Omar Kharbin scored his fourth goal of the qualifiers when he nodded home the goal from right winger Mahmoud Almawas' cross in the 20th minute to put the visitors ahead.
In the 31st minute, Kharbin's effort was denied by the post, after picking up Singapore defender Baihakki Khaizan's lost ball along the edge of the box.
Just before the interval, Singapore received another mighty scare when Almawas' cross met with captain Sanharib Malki, who fired straight onto goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud.
In the second half, Syria continued to pile on the pressure inside the Lions' half, while Singapore's defence struggled to contain their opponents' pace.
In the 48th minute, Nadim Sabag's swirling drive from outside the box was palmed away by Izwan.
In one of the few bright moments of the match for Bernd Stange's men, Christopher van Huizen, on his first international start, found Safuwan Baharudin with a cross, but Safuwan headed just wide in the 52nd minute.
The Lions were dealt a further blow in the 54th minute when centre-back Madhu Mohana was shown a red card for a foul on Kharbin.
But despite being one player down, Singapore hung on and were rewarded when they were awarded a penalty in the 88th minute, after Alaa Al Shbbli's handball. Safuwan duly converted from the spot for the equaliser.
Singapore's joy lasted only three minutes, however, when Kharbin scored a brace at the stroke of the final whistle to secure the victory for the Middle Eastern side.
But despite the loss and with just one game left in their Group E fixtures, the Lions are almost certainly through to the third round of Asian Cup qualifying if table toppers Japan beat fourth-placed Afghanistan on March 24 next year.
Singapore face Afghanistan away on March 29, while Syria take on Cambodia (March 24) and Japan (March 29).
National teams head coach Bernd Stange had emphasised before Tuesday's match that the team's main goal is to make it to the continental Finals held in the United Arab Emirates in 2019.
Singapore, with 10 points from seven games, sit third in the five-team standings, ahead of Afghanistan, who have six points but also have a game in hand.
As the World Cup qualifiers also double up as Asian Cup qualifiers, the winners of the eight Asian qualifying groups, together with the four best runners-up, will also advance to the Asian Cup Finals. The remaining runners-up, along with all third-placed teams, will go through to the of Asian Cup qualifying third round.
Japan beat Cambodia 2-0 in the night's other match in Phnom Penh.They remain top of Group E with 16 points from six games, while Syria are a point behind, also after six games.