Some fight at last but Young Lions exit with a whimper

Young Lions defender Irfan Najeeb contesting for the ball with Vietnam striker Ha Duc Chinh, who eventually poached the winner.
Young Lions defender Irfan Najeeb contesting for the ball with Vietnam striker Ha Duc Chinh, who eventually poached the winner.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

The Young Lions were eliminated from the SEA Games competition even before a ball was kicked in their match against Vietnam at the Rizal Memorial Stadium in Manila yesterday, epitomising what has been a dismal campaign for the Singapore Under-22 football team.

Defending champions Thailand beat Laos 2-0 in an earlier game to confirm Singapore's early exit. The Republic later lost 1-0 to the Vietnamese. With one game left, they are fifth in their six-team Group B, with one point from four matches.

While it was yet another defeat for Singapore at this Games, coach Fandi Ahmad, 57, said he was pleased with the display. He noted: "We are happy with our performance, but not the result.... because this was our best game, against the best team. We fought hard... the desire to win was there. Tactically, we were solid and the boys gave everything. We had chances in the first half, and Vietnam had none.

"In the second half, they came back strong, and we made just one mistake to give away the corner which led to the deciding goal.

"We've got to work harder for the next campaign, which some of them will still be eligible for. I hope the players also work hard to make it to the senior national team."

As a standalone game, his team's display against a Vietnam side who have qualified for next month's Asian Football Confederation U-23 Championship by swatting aside Thailand, Indonesia and Brunei, was an encouraging one.

After all, the Vietnam U-22s, who are hunting for the country's first football gold in 60 years, have been in fine form this year, their lone defeat coming against the United Arab Emirates.

Fandi made three changes to the team who were defeated by Thailand and they can take heart from a resolute performance, in which they played aggressively and made life difficult for the Vietnamese, who had zero shots in the first half.

Their defence also largely frustrated Vietnam, to the point that Nguyen Tien Linh aimed a sneaky punch to the back of Jacob Mahler in an 83rd-minute incident that was missed by the match officials.

However, Vietnam punished Singapore's inability to score when Ha Duc Chinh made the breakthrough from a corner two minutes later.

Vietnam are top of Group B with 12 points, followed by Indonesia and Thailand on nine points. Only the top-two teams will advance to the semi-finals and with Indonesia playing Laos, who have four points, tomorrow, the Thais must beat Vietnam on the same day to progress.

Singapore end their campaign against Brunei tomorrow hoping to pick up a consolation win and halt their four-game goal-less drought - their longest at a single Games.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 04, 2019, with the headline 'Some fight at last but Young Lions exit with a whimper'. Subscribe