Lions go out on a whimper

Striker Mahdi Abduljabbar (No. 9) celebrating scoring Bahrain's first goal as Singapore goalkeeper Hassan Sunny and skipper Hariss Harun look on helplessly. The Lions can no longer qualify for the 2019 Asian Cup.
Striker Mahdi Abduljabbar (No. 9) celebrating scoring Bahrain's first goal as Singapore goalkeeper Hassan Sunny and skipper Hariss Harun look on helplessly. The Lions can no longer qualify for the 2019 Asian Cup.ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

Sundram laments injuries to key players as their Asian Cup hopes are ended by Bahrain

ASIAN CUP QUALIFIER

Singapore 0

Bahrain 3

Bahrain coach Mirsolav Soukop likened Singapore's national football team to chickens after beating the hosts 3-0 in an Asian Cup qualifier at the National Stadium last night.

The result sent the visitors through to the tournament proper which will be held in the United Arab Emirates in 2019, and consigned Singapore to elimination and the bottom of Group E.

Soukop's comments were not meant to be disrespectful as he had used the same term earlier in the post-match press conference to describe his team when they lost 1-2 to Chinese Taipei through two late goals last month.

He had praised Singapore's good organisation, but when asked what they could improve on, Soukop said: "The activity after losing the ball... modern soccer is not just about possession and passes.

"If you just wait (for things to happen), in this moment, you are the chicken.

"(You have to know) who and when to go for challenges, or press after losing the ball.

"But you have some good players, like No. 21 (Safuwan Baharudin), the goalkeeper (Hassan Sunny) and No. 12 (Shawal Anuar)."

TAKE ELIMINATION ON THE CHIN

We have to face it, take responsibility for the results and work hard to bounce back next year for the Suzuki Cup.

HARISS HARUN, Singapore captain, on what lies ahead for the beleaguered Lions.

In front of 2,628 fans, Singapore started the match brightly and could have taken a surprise first-minute lead when Zulfahmi Arifin's free kick found its way to Shawal, who sliced his shot across the Bahrain goal from the back post.

Irfan Fandi then blasted another free kick straight into Bahrain goalkeeper Sayed Hashem's arms from 30 metres five minutes later.

But that was as good as it got for the hosts, who lost both Shawal and Irfan to injury, and then struggled to get men forward to support defender-turned-attacker Safuwan.

After a goalless first half, V. Sundram Moorthy's men could not deal with Sayed Dhiya's right-wing cross in the 65th minute, with Mahdi Abduljabbar scrambling the ball in after his second attempt.

In the 81st minute, the visitors sliced apart the tired home defence and Jamal Rashid fired in from near the penalty spot, before Mahdi got his second from a similar position three minutes later.

After seeing his team go 13 'A' internationals without a win, Sundram blamed the defeat on the injuries, and said: "It's always the case and it's frustrating.

"When Irfan was there, we were solid. When he left, their No. 9 (Mahdi) had more space.

"And if we give goals to opponents on a plate, it's hard to come back.

"My game plan was to make three tactical changes but we couldn't because of the injuries. With the injuries, I can't bring in a Plan B.

"From here, we need to look for strikers in the league. We have limited choices now, we have to see what the league can give us in the future."

But looking at the bigger picture, it was not Bahrain who did them in.

Rather it was Singapore's profligacy against Turkmenistan and Chinese Taipei - the other two teams in their qualifying group - that led to six points dropped that would have changed the scenario drastically.

The Republic actually got off to a superb start in the qualifiers by holding world No. 125 Bahrain to an away 0-0 draw in March, before the wheels came off.

In June, they took a sixth-minute lead against world No. 143 Chinese Taipei. They should have gone on to win, but inexplicably they sat back, allowing the visitors to pinch it 2-1.

Three months later, they again scored first - and the Lions do not score that often - against world No. 114 Turkmenistan at Jalan Besar, but a defensive lapse cost them an 82nd-minute equaliser.

It was a similar story away to the same opponents last month. They did well to find an equaliser but according to local media, resorted to delaying tactics despite needing the points to overhaul their opponents, and received a stoppage-time sucker punch to lose 1-2.

Skipper Hariss said: "We didn't make use of our home advantage to give us the confidence we need to go far in this campaign.

"We didn't play well against Chinese Taipei, and put up our best performance against Turkmenistan but didn't take out chances.

"It's disappointing and we don't want this bad streak too, but we have to face it, take responsibility for the results and work hard to bounce back next year for the Suzuki Cup."

In yesterday's other Group E game, Turkmenistan beat Chinese Taipei 2-1 in Ashgabat to join Bahrain in qualifying for the Asian Cup with 10 points from five games.

Singapore will conclude their campaign with a dead rubber away to Chinese Taipei on March 27.

SEE ALSO: Limping Lions not good enough

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 15, 2017, with the headline 'Lions go out on a whimper'. Print Edition | Subscribe