SINGAPORE - At the end of the post-match press conference, national football coach V. Sundram Moorthy puffed his cheeks and exhaled loudly before making his exit.
It could have passed off as a big sigh of relief as the Lions finally ended their 13-match winless run in a 16-month spell with a 3-2 friendly victory over the Maldives at the National Stadium in front of 2,453 fans on Friday (March 23).
Goals by Hariss Harun in the 38th minute, Shahdan Sulaiman via a 66th-minute penalty and Shakir Hamzah six minutes later also mean Singapore have scored more than once in a match for the first time in Sundram's 22 games.
"This win is good for our confidence," said the 52-year-old.
"We created many chances and should have led 3-1 after the first half, but we didn't defend a free kick well and it was 1-1.
"But we got a deserved penalty in the second half and Shakir scored from nowhere so things squared out.
"Scoring has been our main issue, so it was good for us to score three and hopefully get things going ahead of the Suzuki Cup, our main competition for this year."
Despite the Maldives (150) being ranked 21 spots higher than the Republic, this was a match the Lions were expected to win.
But their poor form hung around their necks like a millstone as they continued to play at a level lower than the sum of their parts.
Forward Faris Ramli, who has two goals in five games for third-placed Malaysian Super League side PKNS FC, was anonymous.
Fellow attacker Shawal Anuar, scorer of 10 goals for Geylang International last season, somehow blasted wide when presented with an open goal in the 25th minute, although he would recover well to strike the post and win a penalty.
Captain Hariss, though, was outstanding throughout, influential in the middle of the park and in defence in the dying minutes.
The midfielder, 27, forced in the opener from Zulfahmi Arifin's corner in the 38th minute, but their lead lasted just two minutes as Mohamed Umair's left-wing free kick curled straight past Hassan Sunny for the equaliser.
Maldives coach Petar Segrt said: "Singapore were better and clear winners. We were lucky the score was 0-0 for most of the first half."
Shahdan's spot kick and Shakir's strike from Irfan Fandi's long clearance in the space of six minutes gave the Lions breathing room.
But they made it a nervy last 10 minutes after giving the ball away for Ibrahim Mahudhee Hussain to grab his team's second.
Sundram's side will face a sterner test in Chinese Taipei for the final Asian Cup Group E qualifier on Tuesday. Both teams are already eliminated and Singapore will be bottom regardless of the result.
"The concern is we gave away two soft goals," said Sundram.
"Chinese Taipei are a much stronger team and beat the Philippines, Timor Leste and Laos to win a friendly tournament in December. If we get our organisation right and (the players) follow instructions well, we should be okay."