Suzuki Cup: Two wins from two for S'pore after narrow victory over Philippines

The Lions celebrating after scoring the opening goal against Philippines at the National Stadium on Dec 8, 2021. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM
Singapore’s Faris Ramli (left) scoring the second goal against the Philippines during the AFF Suzuki Cup group stage match on Dec 8, 2021. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

SINGAPORE - The Lions took another step toward a place in the semi-finals of the Suzuki Cup for the first time in nine years, after they beat the Philippines 2-1 at the National Stadium on Wednesday (Dec 8) night.

The win was by no means emphatic, with the hosts scoring twice in a three-minute spell in the second half only to be pegged back after conceding six minutes after scoring their second goal.

Singapore coach Tatsuma Yoshida made four changes to the side that beat Myanmar 3-0 in their Suzuki Cup opener last Sunday, surprisingly leaving midfielders Shahdan Sulaiman and Song Ui-young on the bench, although The Straits Times understands the pair were carrying minor injuries.

Song was an energetic presence in midfield against Myanmar while Shahdan registered two assists.

Without them, the Lions lacked creativity in attack and striker Ikhsan Fandi, who scored twice on Sunday, did not have a single attempt at goal in the first half.

But the game came alive after Song's introduction as a substitute in the 60th minute, when he replaced the injured Gabriel Quak.

Skipper Hariss Harun opened the scoring just a minute later, nodding home from a corner kick that was flicked on towards him at the back post by Safuwan Baharudin.

And in the 63rd minute, Singapore right wingback Zulqarnaen Suzliman went on a storming run with the ball up the flank, before sending an inch-perfect cross for Faris Ramli to turn home.

The home fans' joy - they made up the majority of the 8,922 in attendance - was short-lived as Amin Nazari stole in at a corner kick to pull a goal back for the Philippines in the 69th minute.

Song almost restored Singapore's two-goal advantage but his low shot on a counter-attack in the 74th minute was saved by Filipino goalkeeper Kevin Mendoza's outstretched leg.

The Lions had some nervy moments but saw out the match to maintain their perfect record in the competition.

They now sit atop Group A with six points, three ahead of Myanmar and Thailand, although the Thais have played just one game.

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It was not pretty but the only thing that mattered was the three points, and the Lions secured them in the end.

But there is plenty for coach Yoshida and his charges to work on ahead of their next game against Timor-Leste on Tuesday. A win then would put them one foot in the semi-final of the Suzuki Cup for the first time since 2012.

But Yoshida surely cannot persist with playing three central defenders - a tactic that he switched to in the second half of the win against Myanmar.

In that shape, the Lions have struggled to create chances and in-form striker Ikhsan was starved of service - he took his first shot at goal only in the 67th minute.

Singapore may have gotten away while not playing at their best against the Philippines, who had a disjointed preparation owing to them missing several overseas-based or injured players, but they will have to up their game against sharper, stronger opponents.

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