Even though the Singapore Under-21 football team suffered its third straight defeat by Iran, losing 1-0 in the inaugural Football Association of Singapore U-21 International Challenge final, there are signs pointing to the team's improvement.
Facing the Iranians, whose senior team is the top-ranked national side in Asia, Richard Tardy's spirited Cubs made life difficult for the visitors at Bishan Stadium.
A satisfied Tardy said: "(There's an improvement) in the fighting spirit of the players. I think that in the first half, we played well but then we conceded a stupid goal. It was very difficult because at that moment, we played (as well) as Iran.
"In the second half, my players wanted to push more but we forgot about the back but (goalkeeper) Zharfan (Rohaizad) saved the team on two occasions.
"The players are very disappointed because we wanted to win the tournament. Everyone showed a very good spirit. The players wanted to prove themselves and make the country proud."
Iran coach Amirhossein Peiravani also praised the Cubs, saying: "Today, Singapore was better than three months ago. Coach Richard Tardy has improved and developed the side well.
"Singapore transitioned the ball well from defence to attack, and were especially good at counter-attacking. But a little problem for Singapore is their physical game. They must also improve themselves mentally."
In two previous meetings, Singapore lost 0-1 and 0-2 in friendlies against Iran in March. And the losing streak continued in the 31st minute when striker Mehdi Mehdikhani's low shot from outside the box eluded goalkeeper Zharfan Rohaizad's fingertips and bulged the net.
But the Cubs played with heart. Even though Iran netted, Singapore continued pouring forward for the rest of the half. Midfield duo Adam Swandi and Joshua Pereira sprayed balls into the penalty area for Amiruldin Asraf but tussling with the centre-backs was too tough a task for the forward.
Iran dominated after the break as Singapore struggled to contain their direct tactics.
Once the final whistle blew, red bodies dropped to the turf in tears but Tardy was not too disappointed. He said: "The players wanted to prove themselves and make the country proud.
"We have the spirit, which is very important, but we need more technical quality. We are one year from the SEA Games and today, I liked how the players fought. Today we showed ourselves and it's good for the future."
In the third and fourth place match yesterday, also at Bishan Stadium, Uzbekistan drubbed Hong Kong 4-0. Hong Kong had earlier lost 5-0 to Singapore.