HANOI – As the final whistle sounded on Saturday (May 14) to signal the end of Singapore’s 2-2 draw with Malaysia and their campaign, the Young Lions players dropped to the turf.
Some sported torn jerseys – signs they had battled hard.
But ultimately, the outcome was a fourth consecutive SEA Games group-stage exit.
The draw summed up the team’s time in Hanoi and showed why Nazri Nasir’s men failed in their quest to reach the semi-finals, which was confirmed by Thailand’s 5-0 win over Cambodia in the later Group B game.
The Young Lions needed to beat their Causeway rivals for an outside chance of qualifying for the next round and seemed to have done it with nine minutes left as they led 2-1.
But loose marking in the box during a corner kick in the 82nd minute saw Malaysia equalise via a header from Faiz Amer Runnizar.
It followed similar patterns from previous matches. In their opener, a 2-2 draw with Laos, Singapore showed grit to score two late goals to equalise, but only after a sloppy performance put them in that position.
Against Thailand, they held the record 16-time champions for 45 minutes before conceding from a penalty kick in first-half stoppage time. They then went on to collapse and lose 5-0.
The Young Lions got their first win with a 1-0 success over Cambodia on Wednesday.
Nazri, who was appointed coach in 2020 after the 2019 Games, said: “To all the fans, I feel sorry for them. I’m disappointed... I failed to bring my team to the next stage.
“I would like to apologise to all the fans back home.” He said his team had given its all despite “challenges”, but did not elaborate.
Young Lions were missing key players, including the Fandi siblings Irfan, Ikhsan and Ilhan, as well as captain Jacob Mahler.
Nazri added: “Looking at the players we have now, I can say they are improving game by game.
“We didn’t give up. I won’t complain about the preparation but it can be better. We went through challenges.
“These boys showed a lot of character, they gave everything... I feel sorry for them. We wanted to get to the semi-final, that is our goal. If I am given a chance to lead the team (at the 2023 Games), I think we will do better than this.”
Yesterday, in front of 22,768 spectators at the Thien Truong Stadium in Nam Dinh, his side got off to the worst possible start, conceding in the fourth minute.
Unable to clear their lines under pressure, defender Harhys Stewart was robbed of possession in the box before forward Luqman Hakim scored.
Three minutes later, the Young Lions equalised in stunning fashion when midfielder Shah Shahiran’s 30-metre shot flew past goalkeeper Azri Ghani.
In the 78th minute, Stewart looked to have redeemed himself when he turned the ball in after a goalmouth scramble. But an 82nd-minute equaliser left the Young Lions distraught.
While disappointed, Shah, 22, said there were no regrets.
He added: “We put in our 100 per cent in every match. We lost players like Jacob but we had to adapt. We can be proud.”
The Young Lions last reached the knockout rounds at the 2013 Games in Myanmar, ending up with a bronze medal.
Following the draw, Singapore are third with five points, having played all four of their matches. They cannot overtake Malaysia (seven points) or the Thais (six).