Football: Lions beaten 2-0 by Kuwait in new coach Nishigaya's first game in charge

Yasir Hanapi attempting to win the ball against Fahed Alebrahim during Singapore's 2-0 loss to Kuwait in Abu Dhabi on June 1. PHOTO COURTESY OF FOOTBALL ASSOCIATION OF SINGAPORE

SINGAPORE - Up against Kuwait in an international friendly on Wednesday (June 1), the Lions were looking to give new head coach Takayuki Nishigaya a victory on his first outing with the national team.

But a 2-0 defeat by their 146th-ranked opponents saw Nishigaya opening his accounts with a loss.

The 158th-ranked Lions created several chances against Kuwait in the closed-door game at the Al Nahyan Stadium in Abu Dhabi, but they were undone by a first-half set-piece goal and a late strike in the second period.

Singapore had beaten Kuwait only once in a 2-0 victory in an international friendly in 2008, and the record now stands at one win, two draws and seven losses.

Hassan Sunny said the team was pleased despite the loss. He added: "Given that we only had two full sessions with coach as a team, I would say we did well. We had a lot of chances especially in the first half but we were not clinical.

"The positive is that we had scoring chances and got into good positions. The scoreline does not reflect how the match went. It is a good sign that we controlled the game and we will work hard in the next few days before the qualifiers."

This was their final tune-up game before the Asian Cup qualifiers, as they will travel to Bishek, Kyrgyzstan on Friday to play the hosts on June 8, Tajikistan (June 11) and Myanmar (June 14) in a single round-robin format.

The six group winners and five best runners-up advance to the continental showpiece.

The Asian Cup qualifiers will be Japanese coach Nishigaya's first test in the hot seat. The 49-year-old was appointed on Apr 25 to replace compatriot Tatsuma Yoshida, who resigned as Lions boss last December.

Against Kuwait on Wednesday, Nishigaya made three changes from the Lions' last outing - a 2-0 victory against the Philippines in an international friendly in March when current assistant Nazri Nasir was interim coach.

Sticking to the 3-5-2 formation that his predecessor had utilised, Nishigaya drafted in midfielder Yasir Hanapi and left wing-back Iqram Rifqi while handing 22-year-old central midfielder Shah Shahiran his first start.

It was Yasir's first appearance for the Lions since a 3-0 defeat by Saudi Arabia in a World Cup qualifier last June. He had missed the team's last nine outings including the Asean Football Federation Suzuki Cup in December as he was not part of the squad.

The Lions started energetically in the first-half and came close to scoring when Shah saw his effort cleared off the line in the 38th minute.

But Kuwait took the lead just a minute later when forward Fahad Alreshidi headed in from a corner. In the 87th minute, Yousef Alsulaiman made it 2-0 after he rounded goalkeeper Hassan Sunny and slotted in.

Despite the loss, it was a night to remember for Young Lions striker Glenn Kweh, 22, who made his debut when he came on for Ikhsan Fandi in the 61st minute.

The Lions will now look to regroup as they head to Kyrgyzstan in their bid to qualify for Singapore's first Asian Cup berth since 1984, when the Republic hosted the event.

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