Football: Singapore national team caretaker coach Nazri Nasir proud despite loss

Zulfahmi Arifin earned praise from caretaker coach Nazri Nasir for sending his free kick into the top corner for his first international goal. The last-minute equaliser earned the Lions a 1-1 draw, though they lost 5-4 in the resultant penalty shoot-
Zulfahmi Arifin earned praise from caretaker coach Nazri Nasir for sending his free kick into the top corner for his first international goal. The last-minute equaliser earned the Lions a 1-1 draw, though they lost 5-4 in the resultant penalty shoot-out.ST FILE PHOTO

His fighting Lions equalise at the very end, before losing 5-4 in the penalty shoot-out

AIRMARINE CUP

Oman 1

Singapore 1

(Oman win 5-4 on penalties)


His tenure may had lasted only two matches but, in his short time in charge, Nazri Nasir had made his mark as the Singapore national team's caretaker coach.

Armed with a clear plan for attacking football, unshakeable belief in his men and inspiring team talks, the Lions (world ranking 165) punched above their weight and took Oman (world ranking 90) to penalties in last night's AirMarine Cup final in Kuala Lumpur.

They drew 1-1 in regulation time before losing 5-4 on penalties.

"I am so proud of the boys," he told The Sunday Times after the game, which saw goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud (swollen foot) rested and captain Hariss Harun (groin strain) start the game on the bench.

"There is nothing else I can ask for from them. They showed true character. At half-time (with Singapore trailing 1-0), I told them there are 45 minutes more. They can go out fighting or they can go out. They have nothing to lose. And looking at their reactions, I got the feeling that we will equalise."

The Omanis struck first at the Bukit Jalil Stadium in the 28th minute through Aziz Al Maqbali's header from midfielder Raed Saleh's cross.

But in the last minute of stoppage time, substitute striker Khairul Nizam was brought down outside the box and earned a free kick.

Several Lions crammed into Oman's wall to make space for Zulfahmi Arifin to place the ball into the top corner for his first international goal.

"Zul just picked his spot, he has a very natural left foot," said Nazri in praising the Hougang United midfielder.

However, with no extra-time in this friendly tournament, it was straight to penalties. There, Safuwan Baharudin, Yasir Hanapi, Amirul Adli and Hariss all netted but Faris Ramli, Singapore's fourth taker, crashed his effort against the bar while Erwin Koeman's men all converted.

The Lions reached the final after beating hosts Malaysia 1-0 on Wednesday while Oman thrashed Afghanistan 5-0.

In the day's earlier game, Malaysia defeated Afghanistan 2-1 to finish third in the quadrangular tournament.

And with the Football Association of Singapore set to announce its new national coach in June, Nazri hopes the new trainer can keep faith in the current lot.

He said: "Man-management is very important in football. If you can win the hearts of the players, you are easily one-up.

"I told the players - win or lose, I believe in you and I will take the blame.

"These boys fought all the way for me, they gave me 100 per cent."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 24, 2019, with the headline 'Nazri proud despite loss'. Print Edition | Subscribe