Singapore undone by controversial penalty in 4-1 loss to China in World Cup qualifier

Singapore's Irfan Fandi challenging China's Yuning Zhang for the ball during their World Cup qualifying match. PHOTO: REUTERS

SINGAPORE – The Lions put up a brave performance against China in their Group C World Cup qualifier in Tianjin but were ultimately undone by a controversial second-half penalty and wayward defending as the hosts clinched a 4-1 victory in front of 42,977 fans.

Just five days ago at the National Stadium, world No. 156 Singapore showed a glimpse of what was possible under new coach Tsutomu Ogura’s reign as they showed heart, grit and intelligence to fight back from two goals down to draw 2-2 with the 88th-ranked Chinese.

Then, the Republic were unfortunate as they were denied a clear stoppage-time penalty despite a tug on Safuwan Baharudin in the penalty box.

This time, it was a call that went against the Lions that changed the game again. With the score at 1-1, referee Omar Mohamed Al-Ali from the United Arab Emirates pointed to the spot in the 65th minute after ruling that Jacob Mahler had fouled Gao Zhunyi as a free kick was whipped in.

Brazil-born winger Fei Nanduo stepped up to score the penalty.

China were reduced to 10 men in the 79th minute when Li Yuanyi was shown a straight red for a high challenge on substitute Joel Chew. However, the visitors were unable to enjoy the numerical advantage as the injured Chew could not continue and the Lions had already used up their five permitted substitutions.

While Singapore threw men forward to get the equaliser, they were punished when captain Wu Lei sprang clear on the counter to make it 3-1 in the 85th minute. In the 90th minute, substitute Zulfahmi Arifin was dispossessed before China raced up the pitch with Wu squaring the ball for Wei Shihao to tap in.

Ogura, who was installed as the Lions’ third consecutive Japanese coach on Feb 1, let his frustrations known at the post-match press conference.

He said: “Today, when it was 11 against 11, it was not very good but not so bad. It was quite a good game.

“Then, we (had to) play with 10 men even when we did not need to (because) we already changed five players. Our player had a serious injury and we had to play with 10. When it was 10 versus 10, the game changed.

“We could not (continue) our football when the game was 10 against 10. This is my summary.”

Midfielder Chew, 24, took to X after the match to reveal that he had suffered a suspected fracture and was on the way to hospital to get his right leg scanned, and added that he was “devastated” and “praying for the best”.

The Lions had performed creditably in the first half, dealing with a partisan home crowd and the absence of three players – the suspended centre-back pairing of Safuwan and Lionel Tan and injured central midfielder M. Anumanthan. All three started in the 2-2 draw.

China struck first in the 21st minute, when Zhang Yuning released his strike partner Wu through the middle and the former Espanyol man ran clear before finishing calmly past Hassan Sunny in goal.

Singapore’s reply was immediate. From the kick-off, the ball was played back to captain Hariss Harun, who launched it down the right channel for Ryhan Stewart. The midfielder found space and delivered a cross for Faris Ramli to head in the equaliser.

The defeat leaves Singapore bottom of Group C with one point from four matches, while China are second with seven points. South Korea are top with 10 points after beating Thailand 3-0 in Bangkok in the later game. The Thais have four points.

The Lions will have to wait till June for their next competitive fixtures, when they host South Korea on June 6 before travelling to face Thailand five days later.

To have any chance of finishing in the group’s top two to progress to the next round, the Lions must win both matches by big margins and need other results to go their way.

Remote video URL

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.