ASIAN CUP 3RD RD QUALIFYING
Chinese Taipei 2
Although the 0-0 draw against a superior Bahrain side in March gave Singapore a glimpse of a bright new future, yesterday's 1-2 home loss to unfancied Chinese Taipei left the team red-faced in front of 5,004 fans at Jalan Besar Stadium.
It was not just the scoreline that embarrassed the hosts but the visitors' brand of passing football and thrilling counter-attacks that showed Kazuo Kuroda's side are not to be underestimated.
V. Sundram Moorthy's men could have stood at the summit of Group E in the third round of the Asian Cup qualifiers had they won at Jalan Besar Stadium last night. But instead, they now see themselves slipping to the bottom after a draw and a loss.
"I felt that it was quite an even game," sighed the national coach after the match.
"For the first goal, the free kick hit the wall and before we could react, the second ball came in and went in off the post. It could have gone anywhere. For the second goal, players crashed into each other.
"This (defeat) shows that there are no more easy games in international football. There are no more easy teams. We have to work extra hard if we want the three points."
Sundram's assessment was telling as the Lions were outfought after a bright start. Singapore took an early lead in the sixth minute when skipper Hariss Harun leapt in the box to nod home Shahdan Sulaiman's corner kick.
HARD WORK AHEAD
This (defeat) shows that there are no more easy games in international football. There are no more easy teams. We have to work extra hard if we want the three points.
V. SUNDRAM MOORTHY, national coach, on yesterday's 1-2 loss to Chinese Taipei.
But the visitors equalised in the 30th minute through defender Chen Tsan-yuan, who lashed a fierce first-time volley past the diving goalkeeper Hassan Sunny after a free kick was not cleared.
Although the hosts enjoyed superior possession, the visitors were dangerous on the break as their pretty passing game dragged the Lions out of position and opened up space for counter-attacks.
This was proved in the 60th minute with an incisive move down the left which saw a cross floated in that caused chaos in the Lions' box, resulting in a collision between Hassan and defender Irfan Fandi. That left Chen Chao-an the easy task of finishing into an unguarded net.
In the final 10 minutes, Sundram opted for a direct game plan, instructing his men to pump direct balls into the box for forwards Safuwan Baharudin and Khairul Nizam. Irfan, who is good in the air, was pushed up front, too. But the aerial bombardment yielded few scoring chances.
A satisfied Kuroda said: "The experience of our overseas-based players helped and our Taiwan-based players supported as well. It is not just skills, our mentality also helped us to win.
"Maybe Singapore is still the stronger team. If we play again, I don't know what will be the result."
Sundram has to rally the squad to reproduce their best form in Tuesday's friendly against world No. 2 Argentina at the National Stadium.
He said: "We wanted to win so that we could be in a good position. But this is football - a draw would have been a better result but we must take responsibility, pick ourselves up and move on."
The Lions are ranked 157th in the world by Fifa while Chinese Taipei are three rungs lower.
Turkmenistan and Bahrain are the other two teams in Group E. The top two sides from the quartet will qualify for the 2019 Asian Cup Finals in the United Arab Emirates. Apart from qualifying directly as hosts in 1984, Singapore have never reached the finals on merit.
And for Chinese Taipei, better known for their strong baseball culture, what a home run they scored at Jalan Besar.