SINGAPORE - Despite taking on current Asian champions Qatar on their home patch, the Lions were uncowed in the 2-0 defeat at the Al Duhail SC Stadium on Thursday (Nov 14).
Singapore coach Tatsuma Yoshida continued to blood the untested, and Home United's 23-year-old Iqram Rifqi made his senior international debut starting at left-back after Kedah's Shakir Hamzah was dropped for missing a training session earlier.
Balestier attacker Hazzuwan Halim was handed his first start, while Warriors striker Khairul Nizam was a Singapore starter for the first time since June 2017 as the Lions lined up in a 4-3-3 formation with captain Hariss Harun earning his 100th cap in central midfield.
The world No. 159 visitors did not pay too much attention to the disparity in the world rankings and took the game to their more illustrious hosts as the full-backs overlapped and wingers tried to feed Nizam with crosses.
In the 20th minute, Tampines midfielder Shahdan Sulaiman conjured a long diagonal pass to free Iqram, whose low effort was saved by Ahmed Al-Bakri.
Ghana-born striker Mohammed Muntari then gave world No. 57 Qatar the lead in the 31st minute with a first-time shot off Ismaeel Mohammad's cross.
Hazzuwan had the opportunity to equalise just four minutes later, but saw his instinctive flick blocked by Ahmed.
Singapore were then unlucky to enter the break 2-0 down as Shahdan turned Ismaeel's cross past Hassan Sunny, though they have the Army United goalkeeper to thank as they relied on his fine reflexes to keep a clean sheet in the second half.
Despite Hariss' attempts to push forward and augment the attack, and Yoshida's substitutions to bring on Sahil Suhaimi, Ikhsan Fandi and Gabriel Quak, the Lions just could not find a goal to match their enterprise against opponents who have now kept four clean sheets in their last five games.
Following the loss, Singapore will look to end a run of three defeats - albeit all against middle eastern teams ranked in the top 100 - when they take on Yemen in a World Cup Qualifier Group D game in Bahrain on Tuesday. Both teams had played out an exciting 2-2 draw in their last encounter at the National Stadium in September.