BARCLAYS ASIA TROPHY 2015

Taking the long road back

Clockwise from top: Stoke City midfielder Marko Arnautovic (centre) squeezing his shot between Singapore defenders Baihakki Khaizan and Madhu Mohana to score his team's second goal. Singapore striker Khairul Amri receiving the close attention of Geof
Singapore striker Khairul Amri receiving the close attention of Geoff Cameron and the Stoke defence as he goes on one of his mazy runs.ST PHOTOS: MARK CHEONG, LIM SIN THAI
Clockwise from top: Stoke City midfielder Marko Arnautovic (centre) squeezing his shot between Singapore defenders Baihakki Khaizan and Madhu Mohana to score his team's second goal. Singapore striker Khairul Amri receiving the close attention of Geof
Stoke City midfielder Marko Arnautovic (centre) squeezing his shot between Singapore defenders Baihakki Khaizan and Madhu Mohana to score his team's second goal. ST PHOTOS: MARK CHEONG, LIM SIN THAI
The crowd does the Kallang Wave during the match between Stoke City and the Singapore Selection.
The crowd does the Kallang Wave during the match between Stoke City and the Singapore Selection. ST PHOTOS: MARK CHEONG, LIM SIN THAI

Decent showing and passing game by S'pore players bode well for improvement

Stoke 2 Singapore Selection 0

Over the two days of competition, they conceded six goals, scored none, lost two matches but won plenty of friends and admirers.

Although Singapore football began the year in gloom, there are signs that it is now flickering back to life.

At yesterday's Barclays Asia Trophy third-place match against Stoke City, V. Sundramoorthy's Singapore Selection more than held their own against their English Premier League (EPL) opponents, who fielded a full-strength line-up at the National Stadium yesterday evening.

For Sundram, their performance in the 2-0 defeat in front of 25,000 fans is one that had more positives than negatives.   

"I am really impressed with the boys," said the Tampines Rovers coach. "They have done great against both Arsenal and Stoke, passing the ball around and this is the way to go.

"The players enjoyed the two games and they would love to have more tournaments like this and if they can play against top teams like Arsenal and Stoke, they will learn things that will enable them to do better (in the future)."

Potters manager Mark Hughes praised the Singapore side as well, saying: "I thought they did very well, they have good ideas tactically as well.

"We are a big strong EPL side and maybe they lacked that power and physique. That was the key difference.

"I think they should be pleased with the performance in both games."

Hughes' point on Stoke's superior physique was demonstrated in the seventh minute when 2.03m tall striker Peter Crouch outjumped centre-back Baihakki Khaizan, who stands at 1.9m, to cushion a header for midfielder Steve Sidwell to sweep home.

And Stoke had finesse, as shown by forward Marko Arnautovic's curling shot from the edge of the box to seal victory in the 73rd minute.

While the Selection side boasted S-League foreigners in Nicolas Velez (Argentina) and Sirina Camara (France), when the final whistle sounded, the players clad in the red kit were all locals, who will form the bulk of the Singapore national team that will meet Syria in a 2018 Fifa World Cup qualifier on Sept 3.

After the tame group-stage exits in the Asean Football Federation Suzuki Cup and the SEA Games (Under-23s), the Lions roared back with a 0-0 draw with Japan in a World Cup qualifier last month.

The Singaporeans' display in the Barclays Asia Trophy, where they took the game to the EPL sides, has been another bright spot.

Singapore Selection captain Izwan Mahbud, who pulled off several good saves against Stoke, said:  "After the Japan game, the morale has been high. The Barclays Asia Trophy has given us great opposition to play against, because they are an EPL team and the boys are hyped up (for the future). "

While the Singapore side ended the tournament without scoring, their bravery in opting for passing football as opposed to defending in numbers was certainly lauded by the audience, who cheered the side off the pitch.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 19, 2015, with the headline 'TAKING THE LONG ROAD BACK'. Print Edition | Subscribe