Football: Turkmenistan snatch late goal to frustrate Singapore in Asian Cup qualifier

Singapore's Hariss Harun (right) competes for the ball against Turkmenistan's Annayev Myrat during their AFC Asian Cup 2019 Qualifiers Group E football match in Singapore on Sept 5, 2017.
Singapore's Hariss Harun (right) competes for the ball against Turkmenistan's Annayev Myrat during their AFC Asian Cup 2019 Qualifiers Group E football match in Singapore on Sept 5, 2017.PHOTO: AFP

SINGAPORE - Sometimes, it takes a good fall to know where one stands and as frustrating as the Lions' 1-1 draw with Turkmenistan was on Tuesday night, it created a resolve in V. Sundram Moorthy to play attacking football to rescue Singapore's Asian Cup qualifying campaign.

With two tickets to the 2019 Finals in the four-team Group E still available, the national coach is determined to dish out more positive play in the search for a direct berth - Singapore's first apart from qualifying automatically in 1984 as hosts.

The Lions dominated the game at Jalan Besar, carving out nine chances in front of 3,712 fans, three of which were on target and one converted by Shakir Hamzah in the 63rd minute.

In contrast, Turkmenistan scored one from their three opportunities through forward Annadurdyyev Altymyrat with eight minutes left.

With this draw, Singapore remain bottom of Group E with two points after two draws and one loss. Turkmenistan have four points. The other two sides, Bahrain and Chinese Taipei, were due to play after press time.

"We created chances and we should have scored a second goal," said a poker-faced Sundram at the post-match press conference.

"That would have put us in the comfort zone. One goal is a very slender lead. But we kept creating chances and that's the key.

"The table is still open. I hope Bahrain win (against Chinese Taipei). That will help them pull away and let the three of us (Singapore, Turkmenistan and Chinese Taipei) battle for (second) place.

"We have to believe in the boys but it is also about them believing in themselves. (Looking ahead), we will take the game to Turkmenistan."

The Lions' next qualifier is against the Turkmens on Oct 10 in Ashgabat.

Known for his cautious tactics and direct ball game, Sundram has shown that he can find weaknesses in opponents and attack them.

Yesterday, the 51-year-old switched to an adventurous 3-4-3 system that had wing-backs Shakir and Nazrul Nazari overlapping and slinging crosses in. Balls were sprayed from defence by centre-back Zulfahmi Arifin to initiate attacks while Hariss Harun and Izzdin Shafiq retained possession competently.

That ultimately led to the opening goal when Hariss' cross from the left was deflected but Shakir pounced on the bouncing ball to lash home a fierce volley past goalkeeper Orazmuhamedov Mamed in the 63rd minute.

The Lions' firepower was something noted by Turkmenistan coach Yazguly Hojageldiyev, who said: "We wanted to start quickly because we know Singapore have good counter-attacks. The two players (Nazrul and Shakir) were allowed to do what they wanted to do and it made the game very difficult for us.

"But a draw is better than a loss."

The battering they withstood, and the hot weather, also meant that the Turkmens sweated so profusely that their white jerseys were drenched at half-time and Hojageldiyev revealed that the spare away kit they had brought along were long-sleeved shirts, making the second half very uncomfortable for the visitors.

Still, the visitors never gave up and were rewarded in the 82nd minute when forward Altymyrat sneaked in at the near post between two defenders to guide the ball home from a left-wing cross.

Sundram conceded that the Lions still lack the fitness and focus to finish what they have started.

He lamented: "We should have done better in the last quarter, we were tiring faster than the opponent.

"I thought we had it (the win). Now, we should work harder in the last quarter of the game."