SINGAPORE - His side endured a slow start, conceded twice early and then could not break down the opposition even with the advantage of an extra man for almost half the game. But Lions coach Tatsuma Yoshida said he was still satisfied after Singapore's 2-1 defeat by Kyrgyzstan in a friendly on Thursday (Nov 11) night in Dubai.
In a Zoom interview with The Straits Times a day after the game, the Japanese said he believed his players had put on an improved showing compared to the ones in three World Cup qualifiers in Saudi Arabia in June. Then, they lost against Palestine, Uzbekistan and the host nation, conceding 12 goals and scoring none.
The Lions are on a 10-day training camp in Dubai in preparation for the Dec 5-Jan 1 AFF Suzuki Cup, and will play one other game, against Morocco 'A' next Tuesday, in the Gulf.
"Our performance (against Kyrgyzstan) was better than in June," he insisted. "But the first 10 minutes was a waste… In an international match, we must be alert from the time the referee blows the first whistle."
Still, the 47-year-old said he was pleased with how his players reacted to going two goals behind.
Kyrgyzstan, who are ranked 96th in the world - 64 places above Singapore - took the lead through a header from Aizar Akmatov after just three minutes, before Ernist Batyrkanov doubled their advantage six minutes later.
Lions skipper Shahdan Sulaiman - standing in for the Covid-hit Hariss Harun, who has been grounded in Singapore - then pulled a goal back in the 20th minute.
Kyrgyz goalkeeper Erzhan Tokotaev was sent off in the 55th minute after rashly sprinting out of his area and fouling substitute Ikhsan Fandi, but the Lions could not make their numerical superiority count. Ikhsan did sweep the ball home from close range deep in injury time, but it was ruled out for a foul by Saifullah Akbar on the replacement goalkeeper.
While Yoshida said he believed the disallowed goal was the wrong call having re-watched the game, he also said his players were too hasty in their search for goals.
Goal-scorer Shahdan added: "They were sitting deep and it was up to us to break them down, but we were too rushed... We have to learn to be more patient to find the gaps in the opposition."
Yoshida handed international debuts to defenders Tajeli Salamat, Nur Adam Abdullah, naturalised South Korean midfielder Song Ui-Young, and striker Amy Recha. The slew of new faces was an indication the coach was in no rush to finalise his best XI even with Singapore's first game in the Suzuki Cup - against Myanmar on Dec 5 - just 24 days away.
He said: "We have many attackers and they showed good performances but they have to keep going… Plus Hariss and Hafiz (Nor) will come back into the team when we go back to Singapore. So I have options."
Asked if leading marksman Ikhsan will be released from Norwegian club FK Jerv for the Suzuki Cup, Yoshida said that his participation is "90 per cent" likely. Clubs are not obliged to release their players for the regional tournament as it is not held within a Fifa international window.
The Lions have not had a straightforward build-up to the Suzuki Cup.
In addition to sweating over midfielder Hariss' recovery, winger Hafiz Nor was also left behind in Singapore after being served a health risk warning.
And even though overseas-based players like Safuwan Baharudin and M. Anumanthan (Malaysia), Irfan Fandi and Zulfahmi Arifin (Thailand) and Ikhsan were able to link up with the squad in Dubai, their respective clubs have not allowed them to remain for the whole duration of the training camp.