Late winner stuns Lions

Irfan Fandi netted his first international goal in the 27th minute, cancelling out Vahyt Orazsahedov's opener in the 18th minute.
Irfan Fandi netted his first international goal in the 27th minute, cancelling out Vahyt Orazsahedov's opener in the 18th minute. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Irfan's first-half equaliser is first international goal but S'pore fall to hosts' added-time strike

ASIAN CUP QUALIFYING

Turkmenistan 2

Singapore 1

Another game, another disappointment. Another qualification campaign, another early exit on the cards. Even if little information is available on the Lions' 1-2 loss to Turkmenistan in the Asian Cup qualifier last night, the dismal result does follow a familiar template.

There is still hope, albeit a mathematical one and Singapore's destiny is not in their own hands.

V. Sundram Moorthy's men not only need to win their final two games against Bahrain (at home on Nov 14) and Chinese Taipei (away on March 27 next year) but also need the latter to hold the Turkmens and the Central Asians to lose to Bahrain on those two days.

With a -2 goal difference, the goal-shy Lions also have to score to catch Turkmenistan, who have a goal difference of +2.

Apart from the result, line-ups and scorers' names provided by the Asian Football Confederation website, there is little information available on the game. Attempts to reach the team through the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) were unsuccessful and there was no live telecast of the match played before 15,400 fans at Ashgabat's Kopetdag Stadium.

In an audio file of the post-match press conference provided by the FAS, Sundram remained optimistic, saying: "It was a very difficult game, Turkmenistan are a very good team. We were unlucky to concede a goal in the last minute but I am very happy with my team's performance.

"It's (the result) not OK for us. If we'd (earned) at least one point, we'd be in a better position. But we will try our best against Bahrain. We need to beat Bahrain at home, then we will have a chance."

WIN OR BUST

It's (the result) not OK for us. If we'd (earned) at least one point, we'd be in a better position. But we will try our best against Bahrain. We need to beat Bahrain at home, then we will have a chance.

V. SUNDRAM MOORTHY, Singapore coach, who was pleased with the performance but not with the disappointing outcome.

Still, the statistics do not make for good reading. The Lions have now gone 11 months without a win since a 1-0 friendly victory over Cambodia last November. In 19 matches in charge, Sundram has seen his players score just 11 goals and never more than one per match.

Yesterday, Irfan Fandi netted his first international goal in the 27th minute, cancelling out Vahyt Orazsahedov's opener in the 18th minute. But the striker struck in the third minute of stoppage time to earn victory.

This follows disappointments when points were dropped at home in the 1-2 loss to Chinese Taipei in June and last month's 1-1 draw against the Turkmens, when the Lions were unable to hold their lead.

To make matters worse yesterday, Chinese Taipei scored in the 89th and 90th minutes at the Taipei Municipal Stadium to claim a shock 2-1 win over leaders Bahrain to leave the Lions anchored to the bottom of Group E.

Bahrain lead the standings with seven points, ahead of Turkmenistan on goal difference. Chinese Taipei are third on six points.

Apart from automatic qualification as hosts in 1984, Singapore have never qualified directly for the continental showpiece, which will be held next in the United Arab Emirates in early 2019.

A day earlier, Iceland, with a population of 350,000, became the smallest nation to qualify for the World Cup Finals.

With the FAS still unable to secure increased funding for the S-League, its age-group teams suffering a slew of defeats and the Lions now facing Asian Cup elimination, football-mad Singapore, with 3.43 million citizens, can only dream, and continue dreaming.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 11, 2017, with the headline 'Late winner stuns Lions'. Print Edition | Subscribe