Football: Lions need to be switched on

Singapore are bottom of Group E in the third round of the 2019 Asian Cup qualifiers with two points after two draws and one loss.
Singapore are bottom of Group E in the third round of the 2019 Asian Cup qualifiers with two points after two draws and one loss.ST PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI

Qatar defeat shows work still to be done as Sundram ponders Turkmenistan selection

National football coach V. Sundram Moorthy believes he has a "good selection problem", even as his team lost 3-1 away at Qatar on Thursday in an international friendly that was used as a rehearsal for next Tuesday's crucial Asian Cup qualifier against Turkmenistan.

Needing to win or draw against world No. 136 Turkmenistan to begin clawing out of bottom place in the four-team Group E, the 162nd-ranked Lions opted to play Qatar to get a measure of the tough mission ahead in Ashgabat.

And while he believes lapses in concentration gift-wrapped two goals to world No. 85 Qatar, Sundram felt positives can also be drawn from the defeat.

He told The Straits Times yesterday: "This was an important warm-up. It gives me an indication of who is ready and who is not."

Normally a defensive-minded tactician, he opted for a more attacking 3-4-3 system at Doha's Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium.

He singled out forwards Ikhsan Fandi and Safuwan Baharudin, who can also play in defence and midfield, after both came on as second-half substitutes.

The 18-year-old Ikhsan, son of Sundram's former international team-mate Fandi Ahmad, is noted for his dribbling while Safuwan offered an aerial presence up front.

FOOTBALL IS A 90-MINUTE GAME

Concentration for the whole match is crucial... we need to work hard on certain areas. Staying concentrated will be one of those things.

V. SUNDRAM MOORTHY, national football coach, implores his squad to maintain their focus until the full-time whistle is blown.

Sundram noted:"They are really competing strongly for starting places and it is a good selection problem for me to have."

Singapore's other options in attack include current leading scorer Khairul Amri (32 goals), the tireless Fazrul Nawaz, winger Faris Ramli and skipper Shahril Ishak.

After a cagey start from both sides, the hosts took the lead through forward Almoez Ali in the 39th minute after a defensive mix-up by Singapore. He doubled Qatar's advantage soon after the restart with an easy header from Ismail Mohamad's cross.

Faris reduced the deficit in the 53rd minute with a volley.

The Lions thought they had equalised in the 58th minute through centre-back Daniel Bennett's goal-bound header off a corner, but Fazrul, who was in an offside position, applied the last touch and the effort was disallowed.

Qatar forward Ahmed Alaadin sealed victory with nine minutes remaining after he was brought down in the box by goalkeeper Hassan Sunny and scored from the resulting penalty.

Singapore midfielder Shahdan Sulaiman bemoaned the missed chances and said the Lions needed to be sharper if they wanted to get all three points in Turkmenistan.

He added: "We played a tactically good game, could have scored more and had a few chances. We found lapses in their defence but couldn't capitalise."

While pleased with their attacking side, Sundram was disappointed by the generosity of his team's defending.

Last month at the Jalan Besar Stadium, Singapore conceded a late equaliser to draw 1-1 with Turkmenistan.

"Scoring is one thing, but concentration for the whole match is crucial," noted Sundram, who turned 52 yesterday and was surprised with a birthday cake at dinner.

"We could have avoided at least two goals. Till the Turkmenistan game, we need to work hard on certain areas. Staying concentrated will be one of those things."

Singapore are bottom of Group E in the third round of the 2019 Asian Cup qualifiers with two points after two draws and one loss.

Bahrain are top with seven points, followed by Turkmenistan (four) and Chinese Taipei (three). The top two advance to the finals held in the United Arab Emirates.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 07, 2017, with the headline 'Lions need to be switched on'. Print Edition | Subscribe