Singapore created a flurry of chances in their SEA Games football opener on Monday evening but had to settle for a slender 1-0 win over the Philippines at the Jalan Besar Stadium.
The hosts should have opened the scoring in the ninth minute, but winger Stanely Ng fluffed his shot with just goalkeeper Florencio Badelic to beat.
The Young Lions continued to dominate possession but lacked a cutting edge in the final third. Coach Aide Iskandar responded in the 36th minute, sending on 1.87m-tall striker Irfan Fandi for out-of-sorts midfielder Shamil Sharif.
The deadlock was eventually broken just before the break from an unlikely source. Rising highest to meet Safirul Sulaiman's inswinging free-kick, centre-back Sheikh Abdul Hadi glanced his header past Badelic, who was out of position.
It sparked wild celebrations on the bench and the sell-out crowd of 7,500, who were getting anxious with each spurned opportunity.
Aide's charges next face Myanmar on Thursday, while the Azkals will go up against Cambodia a day earlier.