Spalato beats only one home in HK
But trainer John O'Hara pressing on for the Hong Kong Sprint on Dec 14
Lions supporters vow to return for their next two matches
It all looked promising last night at the National Stadium, as the crowd gradually warmed to several rounds of the Kallang Wave before the match.
But the Lions fans - save for a section near the giant Singapore flag at the East end of the 55,000-seater arena - were mostly muted when the reigning Asean Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup champions fell 2-1 to Thailand in their opening match.
While vociferous blue-clad supporters of the War Elephants filled about half of the away section, about half of the seats in the home section were filled when the match kicked off at 8.11pm, after the respective national anthems.
The crowd gradually swelled to 32,148 in the first half, but the away section made themselves heard with their coordinated "Thailand, Thailand" chants.
Fans whom The New Paper spoke to gave several reasons for the less-than-full house, with the English Premier League match between Liverpool and Crystal Palace taking place at 9.30pm last night.
Public officer Liew Shi Xiong said: "The atmosphere at the Jalan Besar Stadium was much better because everyone was packed much closer.
"Here everyone was too scattered and the energy couldn't be consolidated."
Khairul Anwar Mohd Yamin felt that the limited capacity of the 7,500-capacity Jalan Besar venue had gradually turned supporters away from "live" football.
The 27-year-old said: "It was always full at Jalan Besar in the past and fans had difficulty getting tickets because of the smaller capacity.
"Also, I think we fans have lower expectations of the team this tournament, since we are in the Group of Death with Thailand, Myanmar and Malaysia."
The Kallang crowd was silenced in the ninth minute when Mongkol Thosakrai put the Thais ahead.
But Kallang roared 11 minutes later, when Khairul Amri ghosted into the six-yard box ahead of a Thai defender to nod home an inch-perfect Shaiful Esah cross from the left.
Except for the vocal Singapore section, cheers from the rest of the Lions supporters gradually petered out, raising their volume momentarily whenever the likes of captain Shahril Ishak, Khairul Amri and Faris Ramli came close to finding the back of the net.
Things picked up for a short while in the 75th minute, when the vocal Singapore section's synchronised clapping spread throughout the stadium for a couple of minutes.
That didn't last though, and it was the Thai supporters who had the last laugh when Charyl Chappuis scored from the penalty spot in the 89th minute, after Safuwan Baharudin handled the ball in the box, to give the visitors a precious 2-1 win.
Pockets of home fans started for the exits as soon as the Thais were 2-1 up, but they vowed to be back for the Lions' next game against Myanmar on Wednesday at the National Stadium.
Nizam Mohd Salleh said: "It is just the start of our journey at the new stadium and we are still warming up.
"We will get better in the second and third game. We will be back to support them."
Dollah hits out at Myanmar 'actors'
Dollah Salleh could be forgiven for thinking he was watching a movie instead of a football match yesterday.
The Malaysia coach did not mince his words at the post-match press conference of the 0-0 draw at the Jalan Besar Stadium yesterday. He accused the Myanmar players of play-acting in getting midfielder Gary Robbat sent off in the 35th minute after picking up a second yellow card.
Apart from the sending-off, Dollah was also unhappy with Turkmenistan referee Kurbanov Charymurat for turning down a number of penalty appeals from his team and insisted that his side were unfairly denied what could have been an opening victory.
"I'm sorry to say this, but I'm not sure if the Myanmar players are actors," said Dollah sarcastically.
"They reacted to every challenge and made sure we had a player (Robbat) shown a second yellow card.
"As for the penalty shouts, I cannot say for sure, but I think they should have been awarded.
"Still, I'm very proud of my players as they gave 100 per cent and managed to get the draw, but I think we should have won the three points."
Malaysia made a strong start to the match when Amri Yahyah slotted home after just six minutes, only for the strike to be ruled out for offside.
Myanmar, coached by former Lions trainer Radojko Avramovic, showed plenty of endeavour early, but were largely restricted to long-range strikes which failed to trouble Khairul Fahmi in the Malaysia goal.
The first big talking point of the match came in the 35th minute when Robbat, already on a yellow card and having just been warned for angrily confronting an opponent after being fouled, tripped Kyi Lin from behind and was issued his marching orders by the referee.
Despite being one man down, Malaysia continued to threaten with Amri and Mahali Jasuli having excellent free-kick attempts denied by Thiha Sithu just before the break.
They had two penalty shouts in the second half waved away by the referee when first, S Kunanlan pounced on a poor clearance by Khin Maung Lwin in the 55th minute and burst into the box.
He appeared to go down under David Htan's challenge, only for the referee to wave play on. Three minutes later, it was Norshahrul Idlan Talaha's turn to be felled inside the box as he tried to get on the end of Shukor Adan's lofted pass but the referee was unmoved again.
Fatigue caught up with Malaysia as the White Angels piled on the pressure. But they were unable to find a way past Fahmi, who produced a string of fine stops with the pick of the bunch coming in the 67th minute when he made a double save to deny both Min Min Thu and Nanda Lin Kyaw Chit.
In the end, both sides were left to settle for a share of the spoils and Myanmar coach Avramovic was satisfied with the draw.
"We came up against a strong and experienced team, so I'm happy with the team's performance," said Avramovic.
"Perhaps we could have showed more composure and should have been more clinical inside the box but, overall, I think we had a good game.
"Hopefully, that will continue in our next game against Singapore."
- The writer is a freelancer.
Cherdsak: Thai coach had his tactics right
Kiatisuk says his team were lucky to win
Sundram: Lions should have won
Stange doesn't blame Bai, Safuwan for the two goals conceded
(Khairul Amri 20)
(Mongkol Thosakrai 9, Charyl Chappuis 89)
They are widely regarded as the best defensive duo in South-east Asia, but it was a day of agony for Singapore centre backs Baihakki Khaizan and Safuwan Baharudin as the Lions succumbed to a 2-1 defeat by Thailand in their Suzuki Cup Group B opener at the National Stadium last night.
Johor Darul Ta'zim II defender Baihakki was caught out by a throw-in in the ninth minute, allowing Prakit Deeprom to cross from the left for Mongkol Thosakrai to steal in behind Shaiful Esah to thump in the opener.
The 30-year-old was lucky to stay on the pitch after first being booked for a tactical foul on Charyl Chappuis after being outpaced in a 16th-minute Thai counter-attack, and then taking down Kroekrit Thaweekarn in the 45th minute.
National football coach Bernd Stange then replaced Baihakki with Zulfahmi Arifin for the second half, redeploying midfielder Hariss Harun as a centre back instead.
LionsXII's Safuwan, who was solid for most of the match, then conceded an 89th-minute penalty after Charyl's cross struck his arm in the box; the Thai midfielder then converted the spot-kick for the winner.
But Safuwan disagrees that there are cracks in his partnership with Baihakki, and said: "There wasn't any problems. If we were to have problems, Thailand might have scored two or three goals in the first half."
Stange will also keep faith in Baihakki and Safuwan for what he calls two must-win matches against Myanmar on Wednesday and Malaysia on Saturday.
The 66-year-old German said: "We started by giving away a Christmas present nine minutes in, even though it's four weeks before Christmas... it was a lack of understanding but, after that, Thailand did not have many chances.
"We didn't want to finish the match with 10 players against strong opponents, and have Baihakki suspended for the next game. It's understandable.
"It's unfortunate Safuwan slipped and conceded a penalty just minutes before the end."
The defenders, with 153 caps between them, are determined to pick themselves up and come back with a stronger showing in the remaining two Group B matches.
Baihakki said: "We must remain positive. After losing the first match, there is definitely pressure but, sometimes, it's good to feel the pressure.
"Coach Bernd explained that the assistant referee told him I was another tackle away from getting a red card and I understand why I was substituted.
"But I was just doing my job. Tackles are there to be made, and we will be back stronger."
Both players felt the penalty decision was a soft one, and that they should have killed off the match earlier.
"It was harsh because I was backpedalling and I fell," said the 23-year-old Safuwan.
"When you fall, your hands will be up to protect yourself from falling down. But, when the referee thinks differently, you can't argue back. It's not like when you get caught for handball with your hands up high.
"I don't feel sad, because at the end of the day, I gave my best. Anyone could be the one in my position. Everyone knows he has a part to play and there is no pointing fingers at anyone.
"We know that we did our best. Goals like this (the winner) are unfortunate, but the mood is still high. We know we can still get something out of the next two games. At the back of our minds, we know that we beat Malaysia and Myanmar."
We need to beat Myanmar, says Stange
S'pore fall to late penalty in Suzuki Cup opener
(Khairul Amri 20)
(Mongkol Thosakrai 9, Charyl Chappuis 89-pen)
Safuwan Baharudin lay flat on his back, staring at the closed dome of the National Stadium.
Singapore fell 1-2 to Thailand in their AFF Suzuki Cup Group B opener last night, and it was Safuwan's outstretched arm that struck the ball, and presented Charyl Chappuis to score the visitors' 89th-minute winner from the penalty spot.
In that one moment, the 23-year-old, often a hero for Singapore in the past - and putting in a decent shift on the night - turned villain, and harshly so.
"Our group is the group of death, and (last night) we were lucky to get three points," said Thailand coach Kiatisuk Senamuang after the match.
"Before the game, we tried to get one point, but we got a lucky (penalty) just a few minutes before the 90th minute."
Thailand were not as dominant as many had expected, with Hariss Harun's sturdy defensive showing in the middle of the park breaking up one Thai attack after another.
But the Johor Darul Ta'zim midfielder could do nothing about Thailand's opening goal in the ninth minute - the result of their trademark quick passing football.
Mongkol Thosakrai applied the finishing touch to a slick passing move that gave space and time for Prakit Deeprom to drive in a left-wing cross that caught the Singapore defence flat-footed.
Just 11 minutes later, the superb Khairul Amri headed in Singapore's first attempt on goal off a peach of a Shaiful Esah cross, etching his name into the history books as the first Singaporean goal-scorer at the National Stadium.
The 29-year-old has three goals in three Suzuki Cup finals (2004, 2007 and 2012) that Singapore have won and, last night, he showed that he is still a player for the big occasion.
He was a hero on the night, chasing down lost causes, won them, even setting up chances for the likes of Sahil Suhaimi and Faris Ramli, who shockingly spurned every one of them, before Chappuis bagged the winner.
Faris, 22, was the brightest spark in a poor LionsXII season in the Malaysian Super League, and fans would have backed him to give Singapore the lead in the 24th minute, when released by Amri, and again in the 74th minute when he was set free by Shahril Ishak, but he failed to find the net on both occasions.
But Singapore coach Bernd Stange refused to criticise his young charge.
"I come from Europe, where these chances are clear goals. But Faris is young and, this time next year, he will score. He will be ready in one or two years," said the German, who took Baihakki Khaizan off at half-time fearing the central defender would pick up a second yellow card after his 17th-minute caution.
Despite having a central defender - Ammirul Adli, 18 - on his bench, Stange decided to put on midfielder Zulfahmi Arifin, and drop the effective Hariss into defence.
The Lions' other central defender, Afiq Yunos, 24, was left out of the matchday squad.
Explaining that he couldn't risk putting in an 18-year-old in a game of this magnitude, Stange said he was pleased that the tactical switch worked and he did not regret bringing a young team to a tourney that he believes Singapore can win.
"There are no young or old players, only good and bad players," said the German, whose task is to reinvigorate his charges before facing Radojko Avramovic's Myanmar on Wednesday.
Singapore are bottom of the group after Malaysia and Myanmar played out a 0-0 draw at the Jalan Besar Stadium in yesterday's earlier game, and need a result to stay alive.
"The team are feeling down, because we expected a little bit more (in the game), and fans may be unhappy with the result, but they won't be unhappy with the performance," said Stange.
"We went one goal down, but came back against a strong Thai team. This was a very unlucky defeat... but we won't need a sports psychologist - we will just try to win the match against Myanmar."
Related report: Stange doesn't blame Bai, Safuwan for the two goals conceded