Singapore football's five-day wait to learn their semi-final fate came to an end last night when the Young Lions were booted out of the SEA Games without even kicking a ball.
Their exit was sealed after hosts Malaysia beat Myanmar 3-1 at the Shah Alam Stadium. With the Young Angels having completed their programme and level on nine points with Harimau Muda (who have a game left) in Group A, the local side, currently with just three points and a game in hand, are out.
It also meant that Richard Tardy and his team fell short of a semi-final target in an event the Republic has never won. In the 2015 tournament on home soil, Singapore suffered a similar group-stage exit.
"Honestly, after the first two games, we needed a miracle. We had only a 5 per cent chance of qualifying," the Frenchman told The Straits Times. "We are all disappointed with the results because we know the importance of the SEA Games to Singapore."
The two opening losses to Myanmar (0-2) and Malaysia (1-2) did all the damage. Even though Tardy's men managed to beat Laos 2-0 last Friday, the team stood only a mathematical chance of advancing.
In addition, the Singapore team showed a tendency to start strongly but fade as games progressed. The Young Lions conceded just before half-time against Myanmar and let in two in six minutes after taking the lead against Malaysia.
"My team are very inconsistent as they are still young," Tardy admitted. "They can play one good game and one bad game the next. We made big mistakes to give away two goals against Myanmar."
But Tardy, who has 10 players in his 20-man squad still eligible for the 2019 SEA Games, feels that the unhappy memory of Kuala Lumpur will stand Singapore in good stead.
He reasoned: "I am optimistic because 10 of them can still play in the next tournament. Against Myanmar and Malaysia, 70 per cent of the starting line-up were below 20.
"The experience and exposure will be very useful in two years' time. We shot seven times against Myanmar, we created good chances with five offensive players against Malaysia. They only need more confidence."
But several of the coach's decisions came under scrutiny, the first being the benching of centre-back Shahrin Saberin after the 22-year-old was named captain.
Tardy explained: "I have four centre-backs in my squad (Shahrin, Amirul Adli, Lionel Tan and Irfan Fandi) and I can only field two. Irfan is my first choice but he plays for Home United (15 of the squad are in the S-League's Garena Young Lions), which is why Shahrin plays with Amirul at club level.
"During our trip to Australia, I found that Amirul partnered well with Irfan and he was faster. It is my job to know the strengths and weaknesses of my players."
He also defended the decision to send the team on a training tour of wintry Perth a week before the Games. There, they played and lost two friendlies (0-4 to Australia Under-20 and 3-5 to Western Australia) in 15 deg C weather.
Tardy said: "We could have trained in Malaysia or Thailand but this is the rainy period and it will be hard to train on a good field.
"In Perth, we trained on good fields without rain. It was a little cold but there are no problems adapting to the heat if you are flying in from a cold country. The opposite is not the same."
The Young Lions will wrap up their Group A campaign against Brunei tomorrow at the Selayang Stadium and Tardy wants his team to bow out on a high.
He said: "Now that we are out, we want to try to finish third in our group by beating Brunei and give a good impression of our team."