SEA Games 2017, Aug 19-30: 2 days to go

SEA Games 2017: Lack of fitness costly for Young Lions

Singapore's scorer Amiruldin Asraf Nodin battling for the ball against Ariff Farhan Isa of Malaysia in their match at Shah Alam Stadium. The Young Lions must beat both Laos and Brunei by big margins and hope either the hosts or Myanmar lose both thei
Singapore's scorer Amiruldin Asraf Nodin battling for the ball against Ariff Farhan Isa of Malaysia in their match at Shah Alam Stadium. The Young Lions must beat both Laos and Brunei by big margins and hope either the hosts or Myanmar lose both their remaining games.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Young Lions take lead and fight hard, but are demoralised after two late Malaysian goals

One by one, the Singapore SEA Games footballers strolled around the Shah Alam Stadium pitch, taking in the cavernous but empty 80,000-seat ground two hours before last night's crucial Group A clash against Malaysia.

It was a deliberate move by coach Richard Tardy to get his players psychologically ready for the game against one of the pre-tournament favourites on their home ground.

For 67 minutes, that piece of preparation worked wonders, as the Young Lions were unbowed by the occasion and played like a pride of grown-up Lions.

Dismissed by many, given their poor form, inexperience and facing the hosts backed by almost 33,000 of their countrymen, Singapore defied all those factors to take a shock first-half lead through midfielder Amiruldin Asraf Nodin's stunning 30-metre left-foot strike.

All that changed in a six-minute spell in the second half, as Malaysia coach Ong Kim Swee, who guided the Harimau Muda to win this competition in 2011, displayed his Midas touch again.

His substitutes Azam Azih and Thanabalan Nadarajah proved inspired, scoring in the 68th and 74th minutes respectively to complete the 2-1 comeback over their fierce rivals and delight their supporters.

While the highly charged environment did not affect his players, Tardy said that the defeat was a result of flagging fitness levels.

  • GROUP A

  • Singapore 1

    Malaysia 2

 
 

He said: "After one hour, we were dreaming we could get a good result. But we have problems physically and they couldn't maintain the same levels of pressing and our organisational shape."

It was a second straight win for Malaysia in their hunt for a seventh Games football title, while it was crushing blow for Singapore, who lost 0-2 to Myanmar on Monday and are unlikely to advance to the semi-finals.

Myanmar beat Laos 3-1 in yesterday's other game and lead the hosts on goal difference with six points. Both are favoured to progress.

Singapore need to win big in their remaining matches against Laos and Brunei, and hope either Malaysia or Myanmar lose both theirs to stand any chance.

Tardy rebutted the suggestion that, together with the Young Lions' exit at the same stage at the 2015 Singapore SEA Games, it is evidence that they have fallen behind their Asean neighbours. However, he admitted that "this competition was a step too high for us".

When told that Tardy said his team had proved themselves the equals of Malaysia for most of the match, Ong - never one to mince his words - deadpanned: "We proved we have character and are much better than them. I saw no good movement from Singapore in the second half."

The final whistle brought many disconsolate Young Lions to their knees, unable to comprehend yet another morale-damaging loss. They had scrapped for every loose ball, harried their opponents into mistakes and maintained their discipline, yet paid the penalty for failing to last the distance.

As his team-mates walked glumly to their bus in the stadium's basement car park, captain for the day Irfan Fandi said: "This hurt a lot more than the Myanmar game. We didn't deserve to lose tonight but fatigue did play a factor."

His fellow centre-back Amirul Adli was also frank in his assessment and said: "We were not aggressive enough in dealing with Malaysia's attacks. We let our guard down and were too much in a rush."

Singapore, who have never won the SEA Games football gold, face Laos tomorrow before completing the group phase against Brunei next Wednesday.

Tardy had targeted two points from the first two games to give his side a fighting chance of achieving their semi-final goal. With zero points, one goal scored and four conceded, there was little to draw comfort from.

He said: "We must play to win our next two games. We are the national team, we cannot resign when results don't go our way."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 17, 2017, with the headline 'Lack of fitness costly'. Print Edition | Subscribe