The Young Lions have a mountain to climb to reach the semi-finals after being held to a goal-less draw by Laos in their SEA Games Under-22 tournament opener last night.
When winger Faris Ramli cut in from the left to fire just over in the fifth minute, it looked like Singapore would make light work of Laos, who had never beaten the Republic at the biennial Games in eight attempts.
However, Fandi Ahmad's side just could not find the breakthrough goal despite having a number of clear chances at the Rizal Memorial Stadium in Manila. Despite their clear height advantage, Singapore also never really threatened from set pieces.
Fandi, 57, said: "Obviously we are very disappointed because we could have gotten the three points. It wasn't our best game but we still created a number of chances which we should have scored.
"It was not our day today. We hit the bar, their goalkeeper made good saves and, sometimes, we misjudged the timing and missed many sitters.
"This was a game we wanted to win so it would be easier for us later. We saw Indonesia beat (champions) Thailand 2-0 earlier, and it is a very tough group."
Fandi had deployed his strongest XI with Faris Ramli, Hami Syahin and Zulqarnaen Suzliman supporting Ikhsan Fandi up front in a 4-2-3-1 formation. The best chances fell to his sons, skipper and centre-back Irfan and striker Ikhsan, but neither could capitalise.
Ikhsan was played through by Shah Shahiran in the 33rd minute but goalkeeper Xaysavath Souvanhnasok made a good block. Two minutes later, Irfan volleyed over from Faris' cross.
In the second half, Singapore showed more urgency but still could not break down V. Sundram Moorthy's side.
There were late scares, with a couple of penalty claims for Laos, before Soukaphone Vongchiengkham broke clear on the left in the 85th minute, only to put his shot over.
Curiously for Singapore, when they drew with Laos at the Games in 1995, 2007, 2009 and 2013, they went on to claim a bronze medal.
But a drastic improvement is needed with Indonesia up next tomorrow. Vietnam top the group after beating Brunei 6-0 on Monday.
Fandi said: "The boys must look forward, they cannot stay down. Indonesia are dangerous opponents but we will analyse their strengths and weaknesses, which we will try to capitalise on. Hopefully, everybody will show up from the first minute of the next game."
His counterpart Sundram, who took over Laos last year, was pleased with the point. It was the former Lions coach's first match against a Singapore team on the international front.
LET'S DO BETTER
The boys must look forward, they cannot stay down... Hopefully, everybody will show up from the first minute of the next game.
FANDI AHMAD, Singapore Under-22 coach, urging his men to stay positive.
The 54-year-old, who was part of the coaching team that guided the Young Lions to two bronzes in 2007 and 2009, said: "My advantage is I know all the Singapore players, I have watched them grow up. We expected Singapore to play long balls to Ikhsan and to Faris on the flank, where he is able to beat players in one-on-ones.
"We practised for these scenarios in training to make sure my right winger doubles in to not give him space. We also worked very hard to stop the crosses to Ikhsan and marking in set plays, which I think my boys did very well.
"It's a good point for Laos to start the campaign and we are satisfied. But I don't really take extra joy from this because, at the end of the day, Singapore is my home country."