Football: Lions winless streak hits 13 matches and a year but Sundram remains positive

Singapore goalkeeper Hassan Sunny saves at the feet of Lebanon midfielder Mohamad Haidar during the 1-0 defeat yesterday. The custodian's stellar performance was a highlight of the match.
Singapore goalkeeper Hassan Sunny saves at the feet of Lebanon midfielder Mohamad Haidar during the 1-0 defeat yesterday. The custodian's stellar performance was a highlight of the match.ST PHOTO: JONATHAN CHOO

Lions go one year without a win but national head coach insists they are getting better

INTERNATIONAL FRIENDLY

Singapore 0 Lebanon 1

The sad statistics are enough to make Singapore football fans cringe but national head coach V. Sundram Moorthy firmly believes the Lions can still rise above the gloom.

When Thai referee Sivakorn Pu-Udom blew the final whistle at the National Stadium last night to signal the end of Lebanon's 1-0 friendly win over the hosts, it also meant that Singapore will go through a full calendar year without tasting victory as the Lions' next fixture will be an Asian Cup qualifier against Bahrain at Kallang next Tuesday (Nov 14).

Sundram's men last tasted victory in a 1-0 friendly win over Cambodia on Nov 13 last year. Then, midfielder Yasir Hanapi scored the winning goal at Bishan Stadium.

The Lions' winless spell over a span of 13 games includes three matches at last December's Asean Football Federation Suzuki Cup, four Asian Cup qualifiers which yielded two draws and two losses and six friendlies (four defeats and two draws, against Hong Kong and Myanmar).

But the coach is not too downcast after his players limited a strong Lebanese side to a slim win before 3,571 fans at the National Stadium.

Lebanon are ranked 100th in the world and in their last Asian Cup qualifier last month, they hammered North Korea 5-0 in Beirut to lead Group B on 10 points, opening up a massive five-point gap over second-placed Hong Kong.

"We have been playing strong teams, the boys are motivated and they are improving," said 52-year-old Sundram, referring to friendlies against stronger sides such as 97th-ranked Qatar (lost 1-3) and No. 4 Argentina (lost 0-6) in the past year.

NO EASY TASK

We have been playing strong teams, the boys are motivated and they are improving. Our boys battled. We had one or two chances and we should have taken them.

V. SUNDRAM MOORTHY, Singapore coach, on what could have made the difference.

POSITIVE ASSESSMENT

We missed a lot of chances because of a very good goalkeeper (Hassan)... They are very good defensively and they have very quick transition (from defence to attack). Physically, they are very strong and they are tactically disciplined.

MIODRAG RADULOVIC, Lebanon head coach, on Singapore's strengths.

"Our boys battled. We had one or two chances and we should have taken them."

Yesterday, Lebanon skipper Ali Hamam scored in the 18th minute when he was picked out by midfielder Nader Matar's pass. The right-back calmly switched to his left foot to place his shot into the bottom corner of the goal.

The Lions tried to rally but found the visitors' defence tough to penetrate. Attacking midfielder Shawal Anuar set up Safuwan Baharudin for a shooting chance in the 38th minute but the centre-forward dragged his shot wide.

In the 65th minute, midfielder Shahdan Sulaiman hammered a piledriver from 25m out, only to see the shot sail over the bar.

There were some bright sparks from the home side though.

Daniel Bennett, even at the age of 39, made several timely interceptions. Playmaker Shahdan was calm in possession while substitute midfielder Anumanthan Kumar dished out a few hard tackles.

Goalkeeper Hassan Sunny continued to show why he is one of Asean's best, making a series of good saves to frustrate the visitors, exemplified by a brave dive at the feet of Mohamad Haidar to thwart the midfielder.

The positive signs aside, Singapore still need to beat Bahrain on Tuesday to revive their Asian Cup hopes.

The Lions are bottom of Group E with two points and need results elsewhere to go their way too if they are to qualify for the 2019 finals in the United Arab Emirates.

Sundram has a big supporter in Lebanon's head coach Miodrag Radulovic, who praised the Lions for frustrating his charges.

The Montenegrin said: "We missed a lot of chances because of a very good goalkeeper (Hassan).

"This team (Singapore) have potential. I wish them luck against Bahrain. It was not an easy game for us (against Singapore).

"They are very good defensively and they have very quick transition (from defence to attack). Physically, they are very strong and they are tactically disciplined."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 10, 2017, with the headline 'Winless in 13 games, but Sundram positive'. Print Edition | Subscribe